A Bright Idea: Introducing ESL Light Bulbs from Vu1


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.

26 responses

  1. Hi Jonathan, thanks for the information on the new ESL light bulbs. I think it is a little bit pricey, but I am willing to try it. :o)

  2. Interesting but some things in this story just don’t add up. First, most people consider LED bulbs to be more energy efficient that CFLs (i.e., in terms of lumens per watt of electricity consumed). How then can ESLs have such a high rating compared to CFLs if, according to this story, LEDs are rated so much lower than CFLs?
    Second CRTs are notoriously energy consumptive and although recent CRT displays and TVs were much more efficient than the original CRTs (going back to the 1950s, say), they are still very energy consumptive compared to the larger screen TVs and computer monitors which use LCD technology. (If they weren’t, flat-screens would not have become so popular!) The latest generations of flat screens use LED technology and are both brighter and use even less power than LCD displays of the same size. Part of the reason why CRTs are so power hungry is because the cathode needs to be heated to high temperature so that it will emit electrons. Of course, standard tungsten bulbs (and halogens) are also inefficient precisely because a lot of the input energy is wasted as heat. So while I am prepared to be proved wrong, I cannot understand how a light bulb based on a CRT can really compete with LEDs or CFLs, which are both low temperature light sources.

  3. Orders of as few as one Vu1 R30 can be placed on the Destination Lighting Web site out of Seattle , WA. Orders of $50 or more are free shipping. They plan to start shipping after February 21st, 2011.

    Destination Lighting is the retail outlet of the first electrical distributor to place an order and receive the product from Vu1.

    I think you may have gone a little overboard with your claims that the Vu1 R30 is MORE energy efficient than CFLs or LEDs. The advantages with VU1 are: great energy efficiency, great light quality (similar to incandescent), reasonable cost compared to LEDs, NO toxics (like mercury), recyclable.

    This is a new product (potentially a game changing product) that has improved greatly, just since I have been watching it. There is a good chance that it will continue to improve, in both energy efficiency and cost. Vu1 plans to manufacture many shapes. Next is an “A” bulb, shaped like the Edison lightbulb that is so ubiquitous in our homes, and available at every grocery store and home center. They are even talking about a tube shape (like fluorescent tubes).

    I have placed an order, and I strongly suggest that others see for themselves this fabulous new lightbulb.

  4. “How then can ESLs have such a high rating compared to CFLs if, according to this story, LEDs are rated so much lower than CFLs?”

    CFL ~ .5
    LED ~ .8
    ESL ~ .95 – .99

    ESL is better in terms of power factor (the higher the better).

    “I cannot understand how a light bulb based on a CRT can really compete with LEDs or CFLs, which are both low temperature light sources.”
    This is a question I have as well. It seems counterintuitive. I’d like to do some real world tests with all three.

    1. I’ll take a guess at why CRTs are not terribly efficient, but these lightbulbs could be.

      1. CRTs are shooting an electron beam over a large distance.
      2. CRTs are simultaneously scanning, focusing and modulating the beam.
      3. A lot of the heat (wasted energy) involved in the CRT is not at the face, but in the transformers to create the high voltages necessary to create a focused electron beam to traverse the distance to the tube face.

      I’m not a physicist and I don’t play one on TV, so take all of this with a grain of salt (think something you put in a pasture for a cow).

    2. Thanks Jonathan. Your listing of relative power efficiencies makes sense. In the original story, LED lamps are rated at “0.08” not “0.8” — hence my puzzlement.

    3. The highest power factor rating, i.e. close to 1.0, have the old incandescent bulbs. CFLs have a low power factor because of their inductance effects, which however can be compensated by a capacitor or electronic circuits. In terms of light efficiency, i.e how much light per Watt is produced, ESL bulbs rank half way between incandescent bulbs and LEDs od CFLs, as can be deduced from the Vu1 webpages.

  5. One item I didn’t see was the expected life of these bulbs. I know LEDs have some pretty long expected lifetimes. Do we know how these compare with CFLs and LEDs?

    1. Expected life is 10,000 hours. Less than LEDs at 40,000. Half the cost of LEDs. But LEDs WERE a lot more expensive than they are now when first introduced a few years ago. Also, only the most expensive LEDs are very good at color rendering. CFLs have the mercury issue, and the color rendering issue; which have made them less than desirable for a large percentage of consumers in the US.

  6. The technical information are misleading. The power factor dos not say anything about the light efficiency. The power factor is lower than 1 if the load has inductive or capacitive effects. Thats why fluorescent sources usually contain a capacitor, which restores the power factor close to 1. On the Vu1 webpage not data on efficiency are given, but you may find there, that a 19.5 W ESL bulb is a replacement for a 65 W incandescent flood bulb, i. e. its light efficiency is about 3.3 times higher than of an incandescent bulb. This is far less than CFL or LED lamps with efficiencies 6 to 8 times higher than incandescent lamps. So, ESL lamps have about half the efficiency of LEDs. Be skeptic to commercial statements, hiding the truth.

  7. Jonathan, you might like to correct the text, which quotes .08 for LEDs instead of .8. Also, any reference for the definition of “power factor rating”? Haven’t been able to find one.

  8. Electron Simulated Luminescence’s) is indeed a major breakthrough in lighting and an improvement over CFL and LED.
    Electron Stimulated Luminescence is light produced by accelerated electrons hitting a phosphor (fluorescent) surface in a process known as cathodoluminescence. The light generation process is similar to a cathode ray tube (CRT) but lacks magnetic or electrostatic deflection.
    A cathodoluminescent lighting system has a light emitting device having an envelope with a transparent face, a cathode for emitting electrons, an anode with a phosphor layer and a conductor layer. The phosphor layer emits light through the transparent face of the envelope. The system also has a power supply for providing at least five thousand volts of power to the light emitting device, and the electrons transiting from cathode to anode are essentially unfocused. Additional embodiments responsive to triac-type dimmers with intensity and color-changes in response to dimmer control. A power-factor-corrected embodiment is also disclosed. The light is rated Ra 85. The energy consumption is 70 % less than that of an incandescent light bulb. The 10,000 hour lifetime is five times longer than an incandescent light bulb. Light is generated instantly when power is applied. The cost is estimated at 12 EUR per bulb in 2010.
    Incandescent bulbs produce light by heating a wire with current. Fluorescent lamp produce light by exciting mercury vapor in a plasma process which in turn radiate UV light towards a phosphor layer that converts the light into the visible spectrum(Source: Wikipedia).
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  9. Hi Jonathan,
    This is really very good news.
    From when these bulbs will be available in market.

  10. Hi Jonathan, I invest in Vu1 so am keeping a very close eye on them as they prepare to ship bulbs in February. You’ve posted a very nice article but it would be great if you could get a current photo from either Vu1 or their distributor Seattle Lighting. Personally I’d snag one off Destination Lighting’s website (Seattle’s online store) but think it would be best to get permission first. You can google for “Destination Lighting Vu1” to see what the current bulb looks like.

  11. Please be careful about the power factor. These bulbs are NOT as efficient as CFLs or LEDs. Efficiency is measured in Lumen/W. According to Vu1, they are at about 31 lm/W, well below CFL and LED tech.

    Power factor is a marketing ploy. This is interesting for power companies. It is of interest when the load (or total usage) of the network changes. Power factor indicates how reactive the load is, i.e., how much energy is/must be stored in capacitors and inductors. This flows in on power up and out on power down and on network fluctuations (e.g., brown out).

  12. I agree, a unity power factor is great for your power company, but meaningless to the consumer, as the meter for your residential house doesn’t measure your power factor. Only large commercial industries have meters that charge for a poor power factor. Rather misleading. I still like the idea though, and plan on buying some of these bulbs.

  13. I have only CFLs now and totally got rid of old incandescent (keep in mind many countries outside N America have already outlawed incandescents so there are NONE; China even outlawed plastic bags a decade ago, US waaay behind)….

    Anyway, this is great to have another option whenever it might show up in my backwards area….even though 95% of my total energy bill is from heating; potentially, I could combine this with passive heating/light and a couple solar panels and I can be totally off the grid (right now grid tied but I use 100% local wind energy).

    1. Interesting…Although decades ago, the US outlawed the noxious air quality found many Chinese cities. Hopefully advances like this can help Chinese citizens breathe more healthfully.

  14. What concerns me most about any of these bulbs is the environmental impact of non-recycling. So far I haven’t seen any legal requirement for doing so. Retailers should be required to provide free recycling if they sell the bulbs in order to the govt to encourage recycling.

  15. The esl is an asum bulb in fact vu1 if thay wanted to can repar the bulb indifunutly just like a crt tv tube!!

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