Light bulbs and lighting in general appear to be going through a renaissance. Last month, we reported on a breakthrough light bulb technology, ESL (Electron Stimulated Luminescene) inspired by a re-imagining of CRT technology. Another technology, Light Emitting Plasma (LEP), by Luxim, is poised to challenge the incumbents of lighting technology and efficiency – not necessarily in the home arena, but in infrastructure, indoor/outdoor, and entertainment lighting.
Luxim was one of the Top 10 Venture Backed Clean Tech Companies announced at the Wall Street Journal 2011 ECO:nomics conference. CEO and President Tony McGettigan introduced the technology to the audience in a captivating fashion.
McGettigan first showed the audience a competitor’s HID (High-Intensity Discharge) light bulb, typically used for street lighting. It was a huge light bulb, about the size of a large wine bottle. He then took out the Luxim LEP bulb from his pocket, fitting it just between his thumb and forefinger. It was so small, that the bulb could hardly be seen from the audience.
At the end of the ECO:nomics conference, I asked McGettigan if he would pose for a shot holding both lightbulbs, and he happily obliged (see the photo above). You can probably see the competing HID bulb. But can you spot the Luxim LEP light bulb in his other hand?
From a materials perspective, this is quite revolutionary to say the least. If the LEP technology can get the same light intensity from such a small bulb, how much glass is being saved? How many LEP bulbs can be made from the same amount of glass as one traditional HID street lamp bulb?
LiFi is the the registered trademark Luxim uses for their bulb. On a side note, Light Emitting Plasma is also trademarked by the company. A more generic term for this technology is a “plasma lamp”.
So how does a Luxim LiFi bulb work? First, the bulb contains gas and metal halide material. When it is turned on, an electric field ionizes the gas molecules, creating a gas plasma. The gas plasma in turn, vaporizes the metal halides. The metal halides completely join the gas plasma, thus emitting a bright white light.
How is this different than an HID? Besides the obvious bulb footprint difference, doesn’t HID utilize plasma as well? Luxim claims that the LiFi bulb does not need metal electrodes to drive power. Rather, LiFi bulbs rely on solid state electronics, thus leading to higher efficiency.
Luxim suggests better efficiency and a longer lifespan for LiFi. In terms of energy efficiency LiFi is said to have over 50% savings when compared to traditional lighting. Expected lifespan is three times that of other fixtures.
There is one possible problem with the LEP technology. Depending on what metal halide is used, the bulb may not be much more eco-friendly than a CFL. Some metal halides contain mercury. To my knowledge, I cannot confirm the presence or absence of toxic metal halides with the LEP. By the same token, CFL’s and LEP’s are still far more efficient than the traditional lighting technology.
All in all, the LEP technology is yet another contender in the alphabet soup of HID, CFL, LED, ESL, etc… technologies. With more and more cities moving towards energy efficiency, Luxim LiFi may be coming to a city street lamp near year. With all the new technologies coming out, the future looks bright for lighting efficiency.