The history of the light bulb dates back to the 1830s when British inventors started experimenting with electric current to produce light. The light bulbs back then were the definition of imperfection since they were too expensive to manufacture, had extremely short lifespans, and consumed too much energy. Forty years later, Thomas Edison stepped into the lighting industry with the sole purpose of improving on the earlier incandescent light bulb prototypes. He experimented with different filaments and different gases to develop a bulb with a carbon bamboo filament that had a lifespan of up to 1,200 hours. Since then, a lot of improvements have been made to the light bulb using different technologies to create different types of lamps with different light outputs and energy consumption rates. Let us look at the kinds of light bulb technologies that are in use today.
Incandescent bulbs are one of the oldest light bulb technologies dating back to the 19th century. Despite being a relatively ancient technology, people can’t seem to let it go. An incandescent light bulb produces light when an electricity current passes through a thin filament. The electricity passing through the filament causes the filament to heat up and glow. Today’s incandescent light bulb has gone through a few modifications compared to the incandescent bulb of the 19th century. Back then, incandescent bulbs used carbon filaments which have now been replaced by tungsten filaments. Despite being around for centuries, the incandescent bulb is the most inefficient light bulb technology to date. Incandescent bulbs have a short lifespan and produce the least light per watt of energy in comparison with other bulb technologies.
A light emitting diode is a solid-state light which uses a semiconductor to produce light. The LED light bulb is one of the most energy-efficient light bulb technologies as it uses up to 80% less energy than the conventional incandescent bulbs. It also lasts for up to 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs since it has an average lifespan of about 25,000 hours. LED light bulbs produce minimal amounts of energy waste hence do not heat up, unlike incandescent bulbs which produce up to 90% energy as heat. Due to its ease of maintenance and compact size, LED technology is ideal for a wide range of applications in today’s world. Light emitting diodes can be found in car headlights, traffic lights, televisions, and display signs.
A HID light bulb is a gas-discharge bulb that produces light when an electric discharge passes through two electrodes separated by ionized gas. The HID light bulb technology has been in existence for over 300 years with the first demonstration of the technology taking place in 1705. The demonstration was carried out by the inventor of the HID light bulb, Francis Hauksbee. HID light bulbs are quite energy efficient and produce a significant amount of visible light per watt of power. Their strong light production makes them suitable for use in areas requiring immense amounts of light like street lights, stadium floodlights, and warehouse lights. They are also used in some high-end car headlights.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) were designed to replace the energy-inefficient incandescent and halogen bulbs. They use a glass tube containing mercury vapor which glows when an electric discharge runs through it. Most compact fluorescent bulbs fit into light fixtures designed for incandescent bulbs. The small fluorescent lamp is very energy efficient since it uses one-third of the energy used by an incandescent bulb to give out the same amount of light. Compact fluorescent bulbs also last eight to fifteen times longer than an incandescent bulb. Although the purchase cost is higher for CFLs, their energy savings and long lifespans make up for it in the long run. CFLs are, however, hazardous to the environment due to the mercury vapor and powder that they use in the glass tube.
The linear fluorescent light bulb is a mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamp with a history that dates back to the 1800s. Just like in CFLs, Linear fluorescent lamps produce light when electricity emitted from cathodes passes through a field of mercury vapor in the glass tube. Although scientist started studying fluorescence in rocks in the 1800s, they were not able to create a working prototype linear fluorescent lamp until the 1930s. Their high efficiency and low cost have earned them a place as a favorite lighting method in most commercial spaces and household environments. Linear fluorescent lamps can produce 50-100 lumens of light per watt of energy, making them several times more efficient than incandescent bulbs. The presence of mercury, however, makes linear fluorescent lamps an environmental hazard, so they require special handling during disposal.
A halogen lamp is an upgraded incandescent lamp in the sense that it uses inert gas in the glass chamber to prevent the tungsten filament from evaporating, consequentially increasing the lamp’s lifespan. In ordinary incandescent lamps, the tungsten filament usually evaporates and deposits on the glass casing causing the bulb to blacken and the filament to eventually break. The inert gas in halogen bulbs creates a reaction that causes the evaporated tungsten to deposit on the filament giving the bulb a constant light output throughout its lifespan. Halogen lamps produce a lot of heat since high temperature is critical to their operation. Their heat-producing capability is a double-edged sword since it makes them ideal for use as heating elements in halogen ovens but makes them fire hazards when used as ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures. Other applications of halogen lamps are vehicle headlights, floodlights, and streetlights.
The specialty light bulb, also known as Edison light bulb is a recreation of the original Edison light bulb from the 1800s. These bulbs are used as decorative light bulbs in restaurants and other recreational spaces. They are also very popular with collectors. The production of the specialty light bulb started in the 1980s when Bob Rosenzweig began to recreate the vintage-style light bulbs. Modern Edison bulbs replicate the same bulb shape and filament style of the original incandescent bulbs but use a tungsten filament to increase their lifespan. They, however, do not produce a lot of light, so they are not ideal for home lighting. The specialty light bulbs are exempted from the EISA ban on incandescent bulbs.
Light bulb technologies have come a long way since the 1800s when the first light bulbs were getting tested out. Today, you can choose your bulb depending on your budget, your preferred use, or even on the color of the light that a lamp emits.
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