This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

June 08, 2005

Study Finds Huge Potential for White LEDS in the Developing World

Battery-powered lamps using white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could provide a more cost-effective and energy-saving light source for the developing world, according to a researcher at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). In an article published in the May 27th edition of Science magazine, Evan Mills notes that 1.6 billion people still lack access to electricity and instead rely on low-tech light sources such as candles and kerosene lamps. In addition to being weak and inconvenient light sources, such light sources are also expensive and energy wasteful. According to Mills, the cost per unit of simple kerosene-based lighting is about 600 times higher than lighting from a 1-watt white LED, powered by a nickel-metal-hydride battery and recharged with a solar cell. Mills estimates that fuel-based lighting throughout the world consumes 77 billion liters of fuel annually, at a total cost of $38 billion per year, or $77 per household.

Illumination in industrialized countries is available at 1000 times the energy efficiency of lighting sources used in non-electrified households, says Mills. In particular, Mills notes that 1-watt white-light LEDs that are commercially available today can deliver more light to tasks than a 100-watt incandescent light bulb. See the LBNL press release and the full article, posted on the LBNL Web site.

Photo of a metal rectangular box with a series of white glowing circles on its top.

The Lighting Research Center developed this white-light LED system, which produces light more efficiently than today's compact fluorescent lamps.
Credit: RPI

In the United States, researchers continue to achieve dramatic gains in the performance of white LEDs, while all types of LEDs are finding their way into new markets. Scientists at the Lighting Research Center at New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) have found a way to squeeze more than 80 lumens per watt out of a white-light LED, a higher efficiency than the 60 lumens per watt achieved by today's compact fluorescent lamps. The RPI researchers managed to reduce losses by separating the white-light-emitting phosphors from the ultraviolet-light-emitting semiconductor, thereby causing less ultraviolet light to be lost within the device. The Lighting Research Center has also conducted a marketing study, which found that consumers prefer the use of energy-saving colored LEDs in store window displays. Looking towards more high-tech applications, companies such as Hella, Lumileds, Cree, and Osram Opto Semiconductors, Inc. are developing LEDs for car headlights and taillights and for backlighting systems in LCD monitors and televisions. See the press releases from RPI and its Lighting Research Center as well as from Hella, Lumileds, Cree, and Osram.