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LED Light Bulbs: Beacons of the Future
When focusing on energy efficiency, it helps to find little ways to save. Check out Groupon’s guide to LED light bulbs to get amped up about going green.
LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs first popped on in the late 1960s. They’ve been illuminating traffic lights, remote controls, computers, and Christmas trees, to name a few applications. But as the worldwide conversation about lighting has turned toward lowering energy consumption, they’ve begun to shine much more brightly. Incandescent bulbs—long the standard in the US, although a 2014 ban on most production is changing that—use most of their energy input to create heat; fluorescent bulbs are cooler and more energy efficient, but require toxic mercury to function and are more difficult to spell. LED lights require minimal energy input and no mercury to function—only about 30–60 milliwatts and roughly 1 square millimeter of semiconducting material.
This semiconductor (the diode part of an LED) has two layers, one of an electron-rich material and one of an electron-deficient material. This polarity makes it easy for an electromagnetic current to flow in one direction only. The reaction also releases light in only one specific direction, which is both a positive and a negative attribute. It’s positive because it helps boost the bulb’s efficiency, pointing light where it’s needed instead of everywhere. On the other hand, it’s been difficult for engineers to make LEDs bright enough to viably replace standard 60-watt bulbs. To maximize their output, most LED bulbs are lined with reflective material that amplifies the light and shoots it in the desired direction.
More futuristic developments are on the horizon. The future of lighting may lie in organic LEDs, which use carbon-based materials to create a thin, flexible diode that produces light even more efficiently than traditional LEDs (although with a much shorter lifespan, currently). Technology is being developed that will allow organic LED arrays to be printed using ink-jet technology, placed on curved or flexible surfaces such as a placemat you want to watch movies on, and even embedded in windows and windshields.