By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Cancer
An analysis of the materials, labor and parts showed that turning an LED into a light bulb requires the integration of some pretty sophisticated technologies.
Like it or not, energy-saver light bulbs are about to become the next big thing.
Starting next year, lighting manufacturers will begin a government-sanctioned phase out of incandescent bulbs that don't meet new efficiency standards. So far, the transition is looking like it'll be anything but smooth. Some conservatives are already seeking to repeal the law, arguing that it infringes upon consumer choice. But what's most troubling is the fact that the alternatives haven't quite caught on.
For instance, compact florescent light bulbs (CFL) account for a mere 5 percent of all bulb sales. Despite being widely available and technological improvements that have enabled the technology to closely mimic the tones and soft glow of incandescents, there's still environmental and health concerns over the amount of mercury circulated inside the spiral tubes.
The other alternative that's emerged over the last few years is one the industry has long been high on. Light emitting diodes (LED) are not only more efficient than CFLs, but they also last much longer, sometimes a decade or more. But the high upfront costs means that it's only during that stretch that the true cost savings start to come into light. Not a bad deal, though try telling that to consumers who suddenly have to shell out 30 bucks or more for a light bulb when they're used to paying less than a dollar.
- Related: World's cheapest light bulb
So why are they so pricey? And are they going to get noticeably cheaper anytime soon? Fast Company magazine recently dissected the technology behind LED bulbs and revealed why the manufacturing process is such a costly one.
What they discovered through an analysis of the materials, labor and parts was that turning an LED into a light bulb requires the integration of some pretty sophisticated technologies. Here's a quick breakdown:
- Components on the circuit board is often assembled by hand because its still too complicated for factory machines.
- The actual LED wafer can cost as much as $8 a unit.
- The brightest LEDs generate blue light. So in order to get the more natural white glow, manufacturers typically coat the bulb with yellow phosphor, an expensive rare earth metal compound imported from China.
- LEDs additionally require the use of drivers to convert energy into electrical current. This component alone can cost up to $4.
- Although LEDs burn cooler than Edison bulbs, they still need a conducting material to dissipate the heat. The aluminum used to accomplish this can cost as much as $3.
The article also mentioned some newer technologies that bulb-makers are hope will help bring down the cost in due time, some of which include:
- Using larger wafers that would allow LEDs to be built.
- The production of green LEDs that when mixed with red and blue ones create white light.
- Smaller heat sinks that require less aluminum.
(via Fast Company)
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Oct 6, 2011
Nice post. Thanks to providing the great information about LED lights. LED lights are so much more expensive than standard light bulbs. Thanks to sharing it....
Why are LED Lights so expensive? The truth is, they do cost more, but there are many reasons for this. One of the things people need to keep in mind is that LED lights are so much more efficient than standard light bulbs that they will surely earn their keep in a very short period of time. That is, the money spent on obtaining them will be made up for quite quickly in the form lower electricity bills, and the less frequent need to replace them. http://www.greenexpressdirect.com/LEDlights.tpl?
I have changed out all of the interior lights in my RV to LED's. (at $20 a bulb). I did this to prolong the battery life in the RV, because we usually go camping where there are no hookups. So far so good. We can leave all the lights on as much as we want and not run down the battery. The bathroom light is the major culprit because if you forget to turn it off it can be on all night which before the conversion would guarantee a dead battery by morning. These bulbs are 12 volt DC. Some are about 4 years old, none have burned out yet, but none have a lot of hours yet. Jeff
Working for a company that installs landscape lights I am constantly looking for new products for customers. I did find one that dims by touching it with a magnet from a company called Ecolink. We recently installed them in the patio of a local restaurant. Fortunately they are not that bright white light so they can keep the atmosphere warm (romantic?). The price, as compared to similar lights, is much less expensive than others on the market. If you are looking for something outdoors, this might be a good option for you.
I'm a huge fan of LEDs, I just don't want to wait until 2050 when maybe we have hydrogen cars. Tungsten and glass bulbs will always be cheaper than LEDs (barring gov't penalties).
My Experience of LED So far is that even with the high price tag they come with some significant problems that make them impossible to direct swap with an existing CFL or halogen in a minority of domestic and commercial applications. I think they have a go, although there are some fantastic products out there now. Fantastic article by the way Tom http://www.lightbulbs24.com/
One time long ago (last year) we got Edison bulbs often for less than $1.50. Then along came a new law saying we should start using CFL bulbs! Whoo... Our beloved government just put a few thousand people out of work (those who made the Edison bulb) and then shipped the job making CFL's to China who now sends them to us. And guess what, these only last about 6 months to a year & then burn out. If you never turn them off they may last the talk about 5 years. Of course the bulb made byThomas Edison back in the late 19th centure is still burning, wonder why? So to sum up the problem,, we have a CFL bulb we invented and sent to China to make thus put a thousand USA workers out of work for a bulb that seems to last only less than a year. Boy, are we smart or not...?
Dimming leds is a simple process and is already used. You feed them with DC that is chopped way faster than you would see a flicker. You then adjust the width of the on time of the pulses. Wide for bright and narrow for dim. It's called pulse width modulation and it works well. So, not a problem, there is technology already available to do dimming. It's merely necessary for appropriate controllers to be manufactured to do the job.
The amount of mercury in a CFL is far less than the mercury emitted from the extra coal required to generate the additional electricity to power a comparably bright incandescent light.
Necessity is the mother of invention. I think we need to force ourselves to give up our addiction to old and outdated technology. The necessity is here: Rising oil prices and limited resources. Our old lifestyles are comfortable and change is something people don't want to deal with, but adaptation is one of the key characteristics of the human species that allowed us to survive so many calamities and catastrophes. I'm sure they'll find a way to make LED bulbs more accessible (in terms of costs and compatibility with current bulb sockets and dimmers.) Juan Miguel Ruiz (GreenJoyment)
It will be nice when LED's come of age - but CFL's? No thanks. the majority of them are not recyled and they contain (relatively speaking) a large amount of mercury, they overheat and start fires, if you break one - legally your house is subject to a hazmat cleanup. This is more than counterintuitive to me. I'll take the edison type until the LED's are ready for prime time, but they're not there yet.
"...why we won't be able to dim those LEDs..." Actually, LEDs can be dimmed with conventional technology. It's CFLs that have the problem of ballast that must be accounted for in the dimming electronics. LEDs are (generally) DC devices, which accounts for the additional driving electronics that are not required in either CFLs or incandescents. It's actually hard to believe that the same type of automated electronics assembly that works so well for cell phones and other portable electronics cannot be adapted to assemble the boards for LEDs. The circuit design is actually pretty simple.
Tuan, you wrote ",,,, but they also last much longer, sometimes a decade or more...." Tell that to the local traffic engineers who installed LED replacements in all the traffic lights only to see them start to fail within a few months. Since the failure is always at the LEDs highest in the "lamp", my guess is that it's a thermal problem. Just plain too hot. While you're telling, you might prepare an explanation for my girlfriend about why we won't be able to dim those LEDs to set a romantic mood using our current dimmers. Engineers are working on this but it's not a solved problem.
Good one Tuan. Kudos to Fast Company for putting this together concisely and visually. Maybe they trawled SmartPlanet in the first place. Anyone interested can read our earlier posts on LED rare earths (http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/an-led-rarity/6629?tag=mantle_skin;content), LED half-truths (http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/more-led-truths-and-half-truths/6328?tag=mantle_skin;content) and LED breakdown http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/intelligent-energy/when-good-lights-go-bad-led-breakdown/6204?tag=mantle_skin;content). Can never have too much on the mysteries of lighting's future. Now we know not only why the bulbs cost a king's ransom, but also why they dont always live for 25 years as advertised. The industry will get there.
There is a tiny amount of mercury in CFLs, should one break all you need to do is to open the windows and let the air ventilate for a short time to eliminate the mercury vapers. No need for a hazmat team unless you break a whole case. My problem with CFL is that they don't last as long as advertised. I replaced one CFL and marked the date on it so that I can tell better how long it actually lasted (it is still working but haven't gone a full year yet). The CFL short life problem may be because of shoddy goods and not a quality CFL.
It's relatively simple to dim LED's. You simply chop the voltage to them into square waves and then vary the on time of the pulse length to give you a sense of varied brightness. O/K so that may screw it up for taking pictures under such light at there would be some flicker you wouldn't catch with your slow reacting eyes but would catch on a fast camera.
...it's just that they just cost twice what the cheap ones do. I've been experimenting with LED lights for about a year now. Don't bother with the cheap ones. They're more short-lived that filament bulbs.
Someone said that CFL's were dangerous and contained vast amounts of mercury. Not compared with all the 4 and 8 foot fluorescents that inundate this country from shore to shore. I have seen a CFL smoke up but it was only one. There is a point to be made in favour of LED's over CFL's however. How many of you live in a climate where it gets cold in the winter, -20C for instance. Try using a CFL outdoors as a porch light. They don't work and I have tried some of the up scale ones. Nope, no danged good. LED's are completely happy in the low temperatures I have exposed them to. Hooray for the LED's and am looking forward to improvements in the technology. Remember that we have been using them in high light output applications for a very short time compared to fluorescents.
You should take a look at the EPA regulations on CFL cleanup after one breaks: http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup-detailed.html This is not a simple process. Either this is typical government overregulation or the hazard is real.
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