US DOE Reports on Efficiency and Environmental Impact of LED Lighting

LED lighting has been hyped as the next best thing in lighting because of its energy efficiency. As Earth Day 2012 approaches, we would like to share the results of a new report from the US DOE, Life-Cycle Assessment of Energy and Environmental Impacts of LED Lighting Products Part I: Review of the Life-Cycle Energy Consumption of Incandescent, Compact Fluorescent, and LED Lamps, February 2012.

Part 1 of the report focuses on a comparison of the energy consumption during the lifecycle of LEDs, CFLs, halogen and Incandescent light bulbs. The lifecycle is defined as the three major lifecycle phases: manufacturing, transportation and use.  The authors of the report took on a lot of work. The report is a comprehensive look at the energy consumption of the three light technologies based on ten existing studies from academia, manufacturers and independent researchers.

The results of the report were not surprising given the buzz about LEDs.  The use phase is the most energy intensive for all — incandescent, CFLs and LED lighting.  Transportation accounted for less than one percent of the lifecycle for all. The real differences occurred during the manufacturing phase with LEDs initially being higher due to the larger “packages” required to meet the equivalent lumens, or the amount of light.  These differences in the manufacturing phase will be eliminated by advances in LEDs over time.  For example, as LED technology improves with increases in yield, wafer size and automation in LED manufacturing, LEDs will become brighter requiring fewer, smaller “packages” to make the same amount of light, lumens.  Even given these initial differences in current LEDs, they all disappeared when totaling everything up throughout the lifecycle.

According to the authors of the report, “the key results of this analysis indicate that the average life-cycle energy consumption of LED lamps and CFLs are similar, at approximately 3,900 MJ per functional unit (20 million lumen-hours). This is about one quarter of the incandescent lamp energy consumption—15,100 MJ per functional unit.”  Further, the authors estimate that, “by 2015, if LED lamps meet their performance targets, their life-cycle energy use is expected to decrease by approximately one half.” This means that as LEDs become more efficient, they’ll outshine CFLs.

This all sounds like very good news for LEDs, but it still is very early. The report is the first report from a larger DOE project to assess the lifecycle environmental and resource costs to manufacture, use and dispose of LED lighting products versus comparable traditional lighting technologies.  Look for more from the DOE.

For Further Reading:

Clearlysapphire.com, LED Manufacturing, http://www.clearlysapphire.com/LED.html

US DOE, SSL Program, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/index.html

Barriers to Entry 2: Yole Developpement Talks Sapphire, New Market Entrants Unlikely to Match Yields of Industry Leaders

In Part 2 in our Barriers to Entry posts (Part 1 is here), we’re focusing on a recent report from the industry experts at Yole Developpement.  Yole analysts have been keeping a keen eye on worldwide capacity for sapphire crystal growth.  According to Yole’s Eric Virey, more than 50 companies have announced their intention to enter the sapphire growth market, with more than 40 located in China.  While the capacity plans announced by all of the new companies collectively would add up to triple world demand, Yole believes it is “a situation unlikely to actually materialize.”

Why?  These new market players have little or no prior experience in sapphire crystal growth and wafer manufacturing.  And, while there are some “turn-key” solutions to lower the barrier to entry, “reaching and sustaining high quality and high yields in sapphire crystal growth still requires significant expertise.”  Indeed the learning curve is steep to reach yield levels on par with established Tier 1 manufacturers.

Yole’s report also said that margins in 2010 were favorable to new entrants allowing them to achieve comfortable margins “despite low yields and sub-par technology.”  However, with 2 inch pricing at historic lows, Yole calculates that they will lose money at the current market prices while “established vendors with higher yields, large volumes, and a more favorable product mix, including large-diameter wafers, can achieve production cost <$5 that will allow them to maintain positive margins and weather the storm.”

For Further Reading: Yole Developpement web site

 

LEDs Break into Fashion and Wearable Tech

ABC's Modern Family featured LED wedding fashions this season.

Who says we can’t all dress like stars?  The Hollywood kind AND the light up kind in the sky.  While Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and other stars have been dressing with custom-made LED-studded gowns and costumes, designers are finally beginning to integrate wearable LEDs into ready-to-wear fashion.  Anne Eisenberg recently wrote an article in The New York Times about how designers are beginning to offer LEDs integrated into t-shirts, coats, handbags and jewelry.

Using conductive thread, sensors, batteries and small microprocessors, designers are bringing light to their designs.  According to Eisenberg, the German fashion label Moon Berlin recently opened an online shop that sells chiffon dresses and accessories like brooches with white LEDs.  The label plans on selling men’s dinner jackets with LEDs soon.  That’s sure to brighten up a prom like a recent episode of Modern Family where everyone in a wedding was dressed in LED-studded wedding attire.

While they may look cool, the wearable LEDs integrated with tiny computers may bring new functionality to clothing. Eisenberg mentioned that a tech company, Adafruit, is now working on wearable computers based on their Flora platform.  Using a Flora kit, you can make a handbag that includes a special GPS senor linked to an LED display.  This will eliminate the need to take out your cell phone or GPS device for directions.  The company is also offering apps for iPads, iPhones and Android devices that can link up to t-shirts that include LEDs that would glow red for poor air quality and with a Bluetooth connection tweet the information to other joggers.

For Further Reading:

The New York Times, Which Way to the Ball I’ll Ask My Gown, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/business/wearable-electronics-are-making-a-statement-novelties.html

Moon Berlin, http://moon-berlin.com/

Modern Family, http://abc.go.com/shows/modern-family/episode-detail/little-bo-bleep/916288