The ‘Most Tested Light Bulb in History’

Dec 20, 2012

Imagine never having to change your light bulbs. Researchers are testing a new L.E.D. bulb that they jokingly say could be written into your will. It could last that long.

Credit Courtney Flatt

The first things you see when you walk in the Lumen Maintenance Test Facility are what look like two giant aluminum ovens.

They’re actually two “mini rooms” at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. Researchers have plugged in 200 LED light bulbs to test the bulbs’ light quality and how long they run.

Jeff McCullough is the lead researcher for the project.

McCullough:“They’ve been operating for 22,000 hours continuously without a single failure.”

In that same amount of time, you would need 25 incandescent bulbs for one LED. McCullough says the Phillips 60-watt replacement LED:

McCullough: “Will be the most tested light bulb in history. This very lamp, there’s a display being developed at the Smithsonian, basically, alongside the Edison lamp. That’s ground breaking.”

A U.S. Department of Energy competition intended to jump-start LED innovation.

LEDs are also known as light-emitting diodes. They look more like traditional incandescent bulbs but many have cooling “fins” on the side.

Marc Ledbetter is the manager of the lab’s emerging technologies program. He says the new LED bulb they’re testing gives off the same warm light as an incandescent bulb, while using much less energy.

Ledbetter: “Across the United States, lighting is responsible for about 20 percent of our total energy use, so it’s a big chunk of national energy use. And this technology has the potential for greatly reducing that energy use. When you compare it to incandescent technology, it can reduce energy use by about 90 percent.”

The Department of Energy wants to cut electric lighting consumption in half by 2030. The energy saved would power 24 million homes.

LED technology is rapidly changing. Ledbetter says if you bought an LED bulb six months ago, it’s now out-of-date.

Ledbetter: “We are basically on a rocket ship here. We are watching this technology change constantly. And it’s getting better and better and better.”

Mostly cities and retail stores are using the Phillips 60-watt replacement bulb in things light street lamps. Right now this bulb will set you back about $50. But, in the next five years, researchers expect it drop to about $10.