A Bright Idea: Introducing ESL Light Bulbs from Vu1

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When changing out incandescent light bulbs for energy efficiency, there are usually two options, CFL and LED.  However, the start up company Vu1 is adding another light bulb option (not to mention acronym) to the mix, the Electron Stimulated Luminescence (ESL) bulb.

The Vu1 ESL innovation re-purposes technology from our tried and true friend, the cathode ray tube (CRT) television.  ESL uses accelerated electrons to stimulate phosphor and create light, thus making the bulb surface glow. It is astonishing to think that an energy efficient lighting inspiration and innovation has been sitting right under our noses.

In terms of energy efficiency, the ESL bulb beats out the CFL and LED.  ESL bulbs have a power factor rating of 0.95-0.99.  CFL and LED lamps have a respective power factor 0.5 and 0.8.  Suffice it to say, the higher the power factor, the more energy efficient the bulb.

For the most part, the ESL bulbs are made of recyclable material, namely the plastic and the glass.  But like many electronic devices today, the semi-conductors and electronic components are not as easily recyclable.  The good news is that unlike CFL’s, we do not have to worry about heavy metals such as mercury with the ESL.

The ESL technology has also been nominated for a 2011 Edison Best New Product Award.  It will be judged along side other nominees on several criteria including societal impact, marketplace innovation, and technological innovation.

The ESL is fairly unique in that Vu1 is the developer and sole manufacturer of the bulb and its technology.  Vu1 owns and operates a manufacturing subsidiary, Sendio s.r.o., in the Czeck Republic.  Initial production capacity is up to 6.8 million bulbs per year, with a planned expansion to 30 million bulbs per year.

Vu1 is working diligently to get ESL to retailers: “Currently in final negotiations with a leading U.S. home improvement retailer, Vu1 expects to have R30 bulbs on shelves within Q1 2011 and A-type bulbs on shelves by mid-year.” But in the early production phase, folks can purchase ESL bulbs directly on the Vu1 website.  The bulbs go for a $19.95 each with a minimum of 8 bulbs (not including shipping and handling.)

While the incandescent bulb is being phased out, it’s great to have the ESL as an option that not only makes our use of energy more efficient, but a lighting solution that is environmentally friendly.

Ed. Note: This article has been updated to reflect more accurate power factors of CFL, LED, and ESL lightbulbs.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.