Global Warming

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Roughly 20 percent of the electricity consumed worldwide is used to light homes, businesses, and other private and public spaces. Though this consumption represents a large drain on resources, it also presents a tremendous opportunity for savings. Improving the efficiency of commercially available light bulbs -- even a little -- could translate into dramatically lower energy usage if implemented widely.

Light emitting diodes emit monochromatic light when their electrons combine with holes to form “excitons”. Standard LEDs made from inorganic materials have already found widespread application in screens and commercial lighting because of their high efficiency. For example, the Water Cube swimming arena at the Beijing Olympics used nearly half a million red, green and blue LEDs.

A group of scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is reporting an important step towards that goal with their development of a new type of light emitting diode (LED) made from inexpensive, plastic like organic materials. Designed with a simplified "tandem" structure, it can produce twice as much light as a normal LED -- including the white light desired for home and office lighting.

Found in everything from brake lights to computer displays, LEDs are more environmentally friendly and much more efficient than other types of light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs produce light by sending electricity through a thin metal filament that glows red hot. Only about five percent of the energy is turned into light, however. The rest is wasted as heat. Compact fluorescent bulbs, which send electricity through a gas

Bright white light from organic LEDs inside a tube, tend to do much better. They typically turn 20 percent or more of the electricity pumped through them into light. But compact fluorescents also

contain small amounts of mercury vapor, an environmental toxin. LEDs on the other hand, are made from thin wafers of material flanked by electrodes. When an electric current is sent through the wafers, it liberates electrons from the atoms therein, leaving behind vacancies or "holes." When some of the wandering electrons and holes recombine, they create a parcel of light, or photon. These photons emerge from the side of the wafer as visible light. This turns 20 to 50 percent, or even more, of the input energy into light. LEDs also concentrate a lot of light in a small space. Producing LEDs that can compete with traditional light bulbs for cost and efficiency is one thing. Making LEDs that consumers want to use to light their homes is quite another. One of the main barriers to the widespread use of LED lights is the light itself. LEDs can easily be manufactured to produce light of a single color -- like red -- with applications such as traffic lights and auto brake lights. Indoor lighting though, requires "natural" white light. This quality is measured by the colorrendering index (CRI), which assigns a value based on the light source's ability to reproduce the true color of the object being lit. For reading light, a CRI value of 70 or more is optimal. LEDs can produce white light by

combining a mixture of blue, green, and red light, or by sending colored light through a filter or a thin layer of phosphors -- chemicals that glow with several colors when excited. However, these solutions increase costs. To reach a larger market, scientists would like to make inexpensive LEDs that can produce white light on their own.

The City of San Jose is to spend around $2 million of stimulus funds received from the US government to help fund a project to replace streetlights with LED fixtures, according to an article in the Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal.


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