A Great New Light Bulb

September 21, 2009 | 6 Comments

Vu1 Corporation announced last week that their new technology for a light bulb is going into production. It’s a very interesting take on an old technology.  Energy efficient like the compact florescent and pleasing to the eye like an incandescent, the new bulb has a good future.

Vu1’s introduction is for their Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESL™ ) technology that is most simply described as uniquely applying much of the science that has been proven over a long period of time in television and computer monitor technology. Vu1 has taken the old basic technology and simplified it. Then they made improvements in uniform electron gun distribution, energy efficiency, phosphor performance and the manufacturing costs. Even more simply, monitor and TV technology is based on delivering an electron “beam.” The complication comes from turning pixels on and off very quickly to make the picture. ESL technology on the other hand is based on uniformly delivering a “spray” of electrons that illuminates a large surface very energy efficiently over a long lifetime.  If their product is as good as some of those ancient TVs that never stop working, this company is really on to something.

Vu1’s bulb can be manufactured to match essentially any light color that consumer demand dictates. If the warm, yellowish glow of the incandescent bulb is what’s desired by consumers then Vu1 will produce the ESL bulbs that provide that color.  The new bulbs offer.  The bulbs are also dimmable across the full range because of the native design. This means that a bulb can be smoothly dimmed across the entire range from high (fully on) to low (almost off). One very good feature is, when turned on, the bulbs return instantly to the dimming state they were in when turned off, no blast of near full output each time it’s activated.

Energy efficiency is a key item of course.  Similar to the compact florescent the new ESL bulb generates the same useful light output but uses about approximately 65-70% less energy compared to standard incandescent. That’s the number that matters in the economy when 22% of the grid’s power goes to lighting – a full utilization would cut that back to fewer than 8% freeing some 14% for other uses.

Another point of view for the energy efficiency is the power factor.  The power factor for an AC electric power system is defined as the ratio of the real power to the apparent power, and is measured to a number between 0 and 1 (or Unity). Low power factor loads increase losses in a power distribution system and result in increased energy costs. The power factor for an incandescent bulb is 1, but for compact florescent its only 0.52. Although residential users are only charged for the power used by the lamp, the power company must deliver full power to match the real load.  Vu1’s bulb gets to a power factor just over 0.93, close to that of an incandescent, making for a happy grid.

An ESL is said to last up to 6,000 hours, about five to six times the lifespan of an incandescent and comparable to the compact florescent. But they produce some warmth, still 50 percent less heat than an incandescent.

According to Vu1 spokesman James Quick, Vu1 might market the first model of the bulb in mid-2010 if its funding holds up. It plans to begin manufacturing at its Czech Republic plant by the end of this year due to some EU countries’ rules making incandescent unavailable sooner than the U.S. market.

Light Bulb Comparison Table

Light Bulb Comparison Table

LED bulbs are even more energy efficient and last around 40,000 to 50,000 hours a bulb but tend to be much expensive to purchase while operating costs are the lowest so far. For many the LED light is going to be an issue unless some cost and light breakthroughs are made, the ESL technology has a giant market entry set up ready to exploit.
The Vu1 point that it’s ESL bulbs would produce light that’s “essentially indistinguishable” from an incandescent, contrasting it with the greenish or bluish light from CFLs and LEDs could well prove to be a major advantage.

Yet there remains a problem.  Quick says Vu1’s ESL bulb would be around $20 when it hits the market, and that’s about triple of what they can expect to get away with.  The firm is going to have to have a massive capitalization and market penetration effort that’s successful or come up with another plan.  $20 for 6000 or so hours will cut it, while $7 is just competitive.  Relying on the mandates to eliminate the incandescent in a market with so many other technologies is risky to say the least.

Yet the technology and its offerings are really compelling.  It takes a top of the line compact florescent to not be a tedious light when reading, examining photos or other color sensitive activities.  Incandescent is familiar, but coming up with a warm bulb, or a true color bulb and other market segments might give an advantage.

It’s a really promising technology.  But time will tell if the business model that Vu1 is using will get to low enough prices that bring production volumes.  I sure hope they make good choices; the video makes the product’s potential look great.


6 Comments so far

  1. russ on September 21, 2009 5:40 AM

    Interesting but do the numbers add up? It produces the same light but also about 50% the heat of a incandescant with 65 to 70% less energy use. If it produces 50% the heat then it must use 50% of the power for heat.

    Not all CFL’s are .52 power factor either as far as I understand – cheap ones are worse. This topic is difficult to get good information (that is easily understood) on.

  2.  Anxiety Depression on August 15, 2010 11:59 PM

    Incandescent light bulbs should be phased out because they waste a lot of electrical energy.,*

  3. Polyethylene on November 16, 2010 12:01 PM

    light bulbs are good for lighting the home but stay away from incandescent lamps because they generate so much heat .`”

  4. Fixit Man on December 2, 2010 10:13 PM

    Anxiety and Poly, you’re wrong. If you concentrated on the heat factor, in cold climates, a regular light bulb actually SAVES you energy on heating bills! Also, they have no harsh light that NO ONE wants like most CFLs or poor color and diffusion like LED. They are CHEAP, and use NO electronics. For most applications, Incandescent bulbs are the BEST way to go. If you don’t want to pay for the power they use, GET SOLAR panels or WIND generators to power them, not outlaw them!

  5. Russ on December 3, 2010 12:31 AM

    @ Fixit Man – In a dwelling you get a 5% credit for the heat from an incandescent when considering it in the overall heating calculation. It is released at the ceiling in most cases and that is where you don’t need extra heat.

    Your post is incorrect in every statement. CFLs do not all have poor color characteristics. Who cares if there are electronics in the bulbs.

    If you want to use wind or sun and insist on wasting most of the power generated you will have to build a larger and more expensive system to support inefficient incandescent lamps.

  6. Adelia Linzey on June 17, 2012 7:10 AM

    incandescent lights uses too much electricity compared to compact fluorescent lamps.,+ minerals

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