Did Somebody Say Incandescent?

Dateline: January 2016
“Bulb Eats Own Light to Amp Up Efficiency”
“New Tungsten Lighting Beats LED Efficiency by up to 128%” 
“Return of the Incandescent Light Bulbs as MIT Makes Them More Efficient Than LEDs”

Very exciting stuff …
Just last year, LEDs were poised to take over the world. Legislation mandating efficiency drove incandescent bulbs from store shelves. Halogen bulbs were banished to the “specialty bulbs” section. Energy codes made it hard to use a screw base in a new luminaire.

The lighting industry had made the transition to solid state. All that remained was to see who would win the race for the perfect LED. But, of course, the perfect LED doesn’t exist. 

Why? Because of the way it is constructed …

Glare is an Issue
The LED source is often much brighter than a conventional source of the same intensity. This is a function of getting more light out of a smaller source. That’s just plain physics; we can’t do anything about that. And optics add cost. So we accepted glare. 

Flickering is an Issue
LED sources flicker. They flicker really fast, so most users won’t notice, but they do flicker. And the dimmer they are, the more they flicker. That’s engineering; we can’t do anything about that without adding cost. So we accepted flicker. 

Poor Color Rendition is an Issue
The LED source has an artificial spectrum more akin to metal halide lamps and fluorescents than natural light or incandescent sources. Manufacturers have made great strides in this area, but the improvements come with costs. So we accepted poor color rendition.

Dimming is an Issue
The LED source doesn’t perform well when dimmed. When the energy produced by the diode is lowered, the phosphors used to make white light vary in their performance, resulting in a kind of gray haze at low settings. That’s chemistry. We can’t do anything about that without additional cost. So we accepted poor dimming performance. 

Glare, flicker, color, dimming. Four of the most important qualities of light. Four qualities that we, as an industry, have worked for decades to stroke and caress — they’ve been sacrificed for the sake of energy efficiency. 

Things are getting better, they say. Things are getting better … so we wait.

Wait. What? Did somebody say incandescent …

Some folks did an experiment in a lab at MIT … and they may have reinvented the incandescent light bulb. It seems as though it didn’t even start out as a lighting project, but rather a research project in controlling thermal emissions. They picked the incandescent lamp because it is an inherently inefficient thermal system. By capturing the energy that escapes as heat and recycling it through the filament until it comes out as visible light, the efficiency of the lamp can, theoretically, be increased tremendously. 

This is big news. They came up with a whole new thing … 

Suddenly headlines are popping up all over the place. Online sources rush to write papers extolling the return of the incandescent bulb.

Except there’s, like, one …

In a lab, as an experiment in thermal dynamics. According to a blog associated with the experiment: “We are not seriously contemplating commercialization at this point … it is not excluded that such light bulbs might have (likely a niche) place on the market one day. But again, making a new light bulb was not the main motivation of our work.”

It seems there are some mighty hurdles to surmount before this thing moves out of the lab. Despite reality, the buzz this news is creating shows an increasing unrest. Vintage light bulbs based on Victorian era designs are flying off the shelf. People are hoarding A-lamps and PAR bulbs by the case. Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way. We want the perfect source, and we would like it right now, please. 

Give us back what we used to call “quality of light.”

And we wait.