August 31, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Will fiber optics replace the lightbulb?

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If fiber-optic lighting systems are good enough for the Declaration of Independence, they should be good enough for the dairy case, explains John Davenport, CEO of Fiberstars.

The Solon, Ohio-based company has come up with a way to combine industrial-grade lamps with fiber-optic technology to create interior lighting systems that consume far less energy than traditional fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. A single 70-watt metal halide high-intensity discharge lamp from Fiberstars linked to the company's fiber system can provide as much lighting as eight 50-watt incandescent bulbs.

"We consume about one-third of the energy of the best fluorescent systems and about 25 percent of the typical fluorescent system," he said. Additionally, fiber lighting won't emit mercury (like fluorescent bulbs, if broken), radiate heat or give off ultraviolet light.

fiber optics

To date, the company, which was founded in the late 1980s and has received around $16 million in federal research grants, has mostly sold its EFO (efficient fiber optics) lighting systems for use in niche applications, in part because fiber costs more. Las Vegas hotels have bought them to beam special effects onto ceilings and walls.

Swimming-pool manufacturers have gravitated to the company's lights because all the electronics are located outside the water, thereby eliminating the threat of electrocution. The Declaration of Independence is lighted by a Fiberstars system because the light source does not emit ultraviolet rays or heat.

"We just did the Magna Carta a couple of months ago," Davenport said.

In 2005, it pulled in $28.3 million in revenue and reported a $7.4 million loss.

Rising electricity prices, combined with new regulations, however, could push EFO lighting closer toward the mainstream. The W Hotel in New York plans to install the lights in its notoriously murky hallways.

Whole Foods Market has replaced incandescent lights in its seafood departments at various stores with EFO. Not only is electricity consumption down, the ambient temperature of the seafood departments has dropped.

Grocery chain Albertson's ran a trial showing that the lights can reduce energy consumption in freezers. It will now test EFO to light seafood, wine, vegetables and other products. Traditional lights melt ice and can change the flavor of wine.

"There's a huge problem with potato greening," said Keith Tarver, an engineering manager at Albertson's. "It removes all of the heat out of the freezer case."

Residential EFO lighting may come next year, Davenport said.

Electric octopus
EFO essentially revolves around taming metal halide lights. Metal halide lamps are extremely efficient, capable of putting out 90 lumens per watt of energy. (A lumen is a measure of emitted visible light.) A typical incandescent bulb might produce 15 lumens per watt or less; most of the energy in lightbulbs actually gets converted into heat.

A halogen lamp might crank out 18 to 20 lumens per watt. Although longer-lasting and more efficient than incandescent lights, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) also emit heat; the heat comes out of the back rather than where the light comes out.

Unfortunately, metal halide lights work best for illuminating large areas. Big-box retailers like Costco Wholesale deploy 400-watt metal halide lamps on their ceilings. Civil engineers use them to illuminate roads.

To solve that problem, Fiberstars takes the light from the lamp and then distributes it through flexible plastic cables. Thus, the single light source serves to illuminate several different "bulbs."

The light emanating from the end of the fiber-optic cable can come out as a single beam of light or, to make it more aesthetically pleasing, the company can insert a lens at the end of the fiber-optic cables that create diffuse lighting (what you have in your living room) or project special effects.

An EFO system is more expensive than regular lighting systems. The lower electricity bills, however, pay back the price premium in two or fewer years. Southern California Edison conducted a four-month test at an Albertson's in Fullerton, Calif., in 2005.

The system was installed in about 40 freezer cases. The study determined that the lights could save $5,885 in a store with 100 fridge and freezer cases, about the average. Payoff could occur in about 1.8 years. The estimated annual electricity savings for each door was 535 kilowatt hours.

"We're still kind of mulling the rollout part. With any new technology, there is a bit of a challenge with the retrofit," said Tarver. Nonetheless, he added, "the technology is great."

Even with the premium, regulations may prompt businesses to adopt the technology. Federal and state mandates have cracked down on the amount of electricity different businesses can consume or the type of lights they install.

Texas, Massachusetts and some other states are also offering rebates for installing fiber lights. A similar regulatory change prompted appliance makers to develop energy-efficient refrigerators, dryers and washing machines in the 1970s that are now dominant in the field.

Fiberstars makes all of the major components in its lighting system, including the light source, the fiber-optic cable and the integrated optics that distribute the light. In the future, it may outsource the production of some products or license its intellectual property (the company has 43 patents) to other, larger manufacturers.

See more CNET content tagged:
Davenport Co., fiber-optics, lightbulb, lamp, fiber

18 comments

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Great Idea, now add a relay to use SUNLIGHT during the day.
I think i read another company is making fiber distribution system for Sunlight.

Adding a switching mechanism would allow Mr. Fusion (the sun) to provide free lighting in the day.

COSTCO has a system like this, Giant 400 watt HID lamps in the ceiling are alternated with planar photon transmission device (PPTD) technology.

During sunlight hours, many of the electric luminares are turned off, with illumination provided by the PFTDs (also known as SKYLIGHTS)
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
good idea
It would work nicely with as automated system controlled by some sensors near or in the sunlight gathering area.
Posted by databyss (20 comments )
Link Flag
Sunlight Relay Has Already been done
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ornl.gov/sci/solar/" target="_newWindow">http://www.ornl.gov/sci/solar/</a>

In the process of being commercialized right now.....
Posted by daver208 (26 comments )
Link Flag
daylight delivered to the building envelope
Daylight via fibre cables (sunlight during the day)check www.dayray.com
Posted by M BONELLO (1 comment )
Link Flag
Perfect for me
I hope the company read this - their system would be perfect for replacing the halogen and suspended cable system in my office that needs must runs many hours a day. Were it available, I'd buy it.
Posted by Jerry Dawson (125 comments )
Reply Link Flag
While you're at it...
why not add other light frequencies to the delivery to provide an EXTREMELY secure wireless internal network. In-house computers could be hooked up with optical tranceivers via USB ports. No way for anyone outside of the building to intercept the optics!
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's how infrared works
Infrared ports used by computers, phones and other peripherals use the same technology to transmit data

But the serious drawback of this technology is that the devices communicating have to be in line of sight and for this very reason, iR failed to grow
Posted by cary1 (924 comments )
Link Flag
Integration into new buildings
"In-house computers could be hooked up with optical tranceivers via USB ports."

That's a good point. It would also make sense in new buildings to install a few fibre-optic systems as well. When they're being built that is.

As well as electricity cables and phone cables, you could have fibre-optic data cables, and you could install lighting optics instead of the lighting circuit. In fact, you could remove the phone cables as well, and just have that included in the fibre-optic system.

But naturally, the people who have a say in these things will be too pig-headed and tight-fisted to embrace these new technologies...
Posted by ayteebee (32 comments )
Link Flag
Hope its improved
Tried it some years ago in a pool lighting system. I hope the new systems are significantly better.
Posted by cswor (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Will fiber optics replace the lightbulb?
no.

In fact I encourage all of you to go out into the world and find all the fiber optic light decorations then stick tape over then end of each piece.

People keep asking me why their site's bandwidth is so poor - and I tell them, you've allowed these idiots to leave fiber all over the place, and the internet is leaking out of them.

Prevent waste - shore up every leak you can find - Christmas is the worst time of all.

All those shopping sites are moving at a snail's pace because of shoppers.. it's because of all the fiber optic decorations at places like Lowes and Walmart - leaking the internet onto the floor.

Not only that, it causes all kinds of internet ailments and viruses to spread - as people's dirty shoes infect the bits of the internet left lying on the floor by these thoughtless store owners.

So save the internet from further abuse, and duct tape shut every piece of open fiber you can find.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
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Visual Lighting Technologies blows Fiberstars away in performance
What this artical failed to mention is that Fiberstars technology in illuminators is indeed very good. Their fiber connections are horrible and do not sustain over time - THEY MELT and CHANGE COLOR OVER TIME. Visual Lighting Technologies operates at a cooler temperature and connections of optical quality. FYI
Posted by ScottTeague (1 comment )
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Compact fluorescent/LEDS?
Why not use a collection of superbright LED lights instead? Or uses Compact fluorescent bulbs? Slowly but surely I imagine the filament bulbs are going to be used less and less.
Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New Led bulbs based on quantum dot technology turn our be more efficient
Recent discoveries with high output quantum dot based leds may be more efficient and easier to employ that this technology because of lower led voltages and wire versus fiber optic distribution of the light sources.
Posted by MikeDoherty (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I would like to know more about your fiber optic lighting. I want to Install this lighting in homes and businesses. If this product can light a house, business or even warehouses from one power source, then I want to be a part of the this opportunity. I have many ideas about porting light from one source to many special bulbs to produce 60 to 100 watts. Please send me info on how your system works.
saltlife68@bellsouth.net
Posted by Guy-Scott (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This website has the best &lt;a href="http://www.trinorthlighting.com/&gt; fiber optic lighting&lt;/a&gt; on the market now. I spoke with them and they said that it will be more cost effective to go with led lighting products that are now starting to hit the market. They also have some very high end led light bulbs.
Posted by trinorth (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Hi. This is issue is really important and there are many researches about technologies on this particular point. I also invite you to visite a website http://www.weeklight.com.br/index.html where I found out more information about this new technology.
Posted by fa_miceli (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hi. This is issue is really important and there are many researches about technologies on this particular point. I also invite you to visite a website http://www.weeklight.com.br/index.html where I found out more information about this new technology.
Posted by fa_miceli (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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