Cover photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
For the past couple years, Americans everywhere have mourned the loss of Thomas Edison’s signature invention, the incandescent light bulb. According to the people who believe that they are arbiters of the environment, the problem with the plain, old incandescent light bulb was and is that a HUGE percentage of the energy used to fire up the tungsten fillament that glowed and produced light, manifested as heat. This, of course, led to global warming.
That was the excuse used to get the nation to switch over to the far more toxic when broken compact fluorescent light bulbs that may well be cooler and use less energy, but produce light that gives a good percentage of the population migraines and, frankly, is harsh, glaring, and not good for the people. LED technology has been pushed as well, but the same issues crop up for users who aren’t sold on the concept of excited light particles. (The only people that really are sold on LED are the scientists that work with it.)
A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been looking for a happy medium solution to the problem of wanting the soft glow of incandescent light bulbs with the energy efficiency of a CFL. Recently, they announced that they’ve figured out a way to capture the heat produced by an incandescent and use it as energy to keep the tungsten glowing.
In an article for Nature Nanotechnology, the team claims that they’ve incorporated a special filter around the filament of the bulb, which is currently in the proof-of-concept phase. The filter traps wavelengths at the infrared part of the spectrum — heat — while allowing visible light waves to pass through.
That heat helps keep the filament hot and shiny, and the result is an incandescent bulb that requires less power to put out its light — roughly the same amount of power as a fluorescent bulb, or even an LED, the team claims. That’d represent a jump in efficiency of more than 80%.
Techno-speak details are more thorough in a piece from The Comment, but the bottom line is that the marketplace longs for a return to Thomas Edison’s original light bulb even if the techies and the people who pushed LEDs and CFLs on us are still extolling their virtues.
That said, nostalgia for incandescent bulbs continues to linger, and more than one manufacturer has already tried to take advantage of it, with fluorescent and LED bulbs designed to mimic the light quality and filament build of the bulbs of yesterday.
Nostalgia? Some of us knew this was coming and took precautions, changing window treatments and stockpiling because we cannot function around fluorescent and LED lighting. We also learned where to find bulbs with wattage that isn’t 40-60-75-100 that work just fine. Pushing this technology on us may be “saving the planet,” but it’s making us miserable.
So, when can we expect this new product from MIT in stores. Not any time soon. The researchers are still proving the concept…and then they’ll need start-up cash, and a place to manufacture them. The one thing they do not need is legislation to make and sell the light bulbs legally. As it happens, when Congress and George W. Bush “outlawed” regular light bulbs, what they really did was mandate energy efficiency.
It’s also worth noting that the new efficiency standards don’t outlaw incandescents outright — they just mandate that manufacturers make them more efficient. If the MIT technique accomplishes that without compromising the bulb’s brightness or color quality — and if it’s cheaper to manufacture than today’s high-efficiency alternatives — then there’s really not much stopping the bulb makers from looking into it.
Thank Heaven. The stockpile may only last ten years. By then, these new bulbs might be available.