A northern California company is trying to save the incandescent bulb from extinction.
Although compact fluorescent bulbs have grown in popularity, consumers have complained about possible toxicity from mercury in the bulbs and the quality of light. Incandescents are hard to beat when it comes to illuminating a room, but most incandescents also waste energy. When Congress decided new efficiency standards must be met by 2012, it seemed the incandescent was done for.
Norman Boling has a peculiar reason why he thinks bulbs made by Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Deposition Sciences Inc. shine the best light.
Boling, vice president of research and development at the company, gets a little giddy when he talks about lighting. He and fellow scientist Bob Gray are excited to show off their bright idea: a machine that makes incandescent lights cheaper and greener than a regular 100-watt bulb.
Gray calls the sputter chamber — in which the bulbs are coated — a mechanic's playground. It is a big, spinning drum inside a stainless steel box. It is covered with motors, blinking lights and a web of tubes and wires.
In a quieter room nearby, Boling runs down some light-bulb basics. He says if you break a 100-watt bulb and look inside, you see the filament. When the filament is heated to about 3,000 degrees, it glows. What you don't see is the heat the bulb emits as wasted energy. DSI has developed a way to trap and recycle that energy to make the bulb glow.
"The concept we use: It's a small light bulb — about the size of a peanut," Boling says. "On that light bulb, we put a very complex coating."
The mirrored coating reflects the heat back onto the filament. The "sputtering" process spray-paints that metal film all over those little glass bulbs. The whole process takes about 5 hours.
The coating is only a fraction of the width of a hair on your head.
Later, these bulbs will go inside bigger glass shells shaped just like the common 100-watt bulb. The light is just as good, too, though the new "hybrid electric lights" only use up 70 watts.
"So you'll save 30 watts," Boling says. "That's money in your pocket, because you won't be paying for that electricity."
DSI hopes to attract investors, but making hybrid lights isn't cheap, so the bulbs are expensive.
Gray says prices will fall once more hybrids hit the market. He is determined to make that happen.
"If this technology is accepted and goes into general use, it's staggering the amount of energy that can be saved," Gray says. "That's exciting to me."