Smart Lighting Will Save Trillions of Dollars, Gigatons of CO2

TROY, New York, December 19, 2008 (ENS) - A new generation of lighting devices based on light-emitting diodes, LEDs, will supplant the common light bulb in coming years, according to a paper published this week by two professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Innovations in photonics and solid state lighting will lead to trillions of dollars in cost savings, along with a massive reduction in the amount of energy required to light homes and businesses around the globe, write co-authors E. Fred Schubert and Jong Kyu Kim.

If all of the world's light bulbs were replaced with energy-efficient LEDs for a period of 10 years, the researchers say it would reduce global crude oil consumption by 962 million barrels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10.68 gigatons.

The researchers predict financial savings of $1.83 trillion over the 10 year period, and the number of required global power plants would be reduced by 280.

In addition to the environmental and cost benefits of LEDs, the technology is expected to enable a wide range of advances in areas as diverse as healthcare, transportation systems, digital displays, and computer networking.

"What the transistor meant to the development of electronics, the LED means to the field of photonics. This core device has the potential to revolutionize how we use light," write Schubert and Kim.

Schubert is the Wellfleet Senior Constellation Professor of Future Chips at Rensselaer, and heads the university's National Science Foundation-funded Smart Lighting Center.

Kim is a research assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering.

Their paper, titled "Transcending the replacement paradigm of solid-state lighting," will be published in the December 22 issue of "Optics Express."

Researchers are able to control every aspect of light generated by LEDs, allowing the light sources to be tweaked and optimized for nearly any situation, Schubert and Kim said.

In general, LEDs will require 20 times less power than today's conventional light bulbs, and five times less power than compact fluorescent bulbs.

With all of the promise and potential of LEDs, Schubert and Kim said it is important not to pigeonhole or dismiss smart lighting technology as a mere replacement for conventional light bulbs.

The paper stresses that advances in photonics will position solid state lighting as a catalyst for unexpected, currently unimaginable technological advances.

"Deployed on a large scale, LEDs have the potential to tremendously reduce pollution, save energy, save financial resources, and add new and unprecedented functionalities to photonic devices," the researchers write. "These factors make photonics what could be termed a benevolent tsunami, an irresistible wave, a solution to many global challenges currently faced by humanity and will be facing even more in the years to come."

"Transcending the replacement paradigm will open up a new chapter in photonics - smart lighting sources that are controllable, tunable, intelligent, and communicative," they write.

Possible smart lighting applications include rapid biological cell identification, interactive roadways, boosting plant growth, and better supporting human circadian rhythms to reduce an individual's dependency on sleep-inducing drugs or reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

In October, Rensselaer announced its new Smart Lighting Research Center, in partnership with Boston University and the University of New Mexico, and funded by an $18.5 million, five-year award from the National Science Foundation's Generation Three Engineering Research Center Program.

The three primary research thrusts of the center are developing novel materials, device technology, and systems applications to further the understanding and proliferation of smart lighting technologies.

"Sustainability and energy efficiency are two key challenges of our time, yet they also present rich opportunities," said Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson. "With innovation, ingenuity, and a clear vision, the NSF-funded Smart Lighting Center at Rensselaer will rewrite the rules for manipulating light and help introduce these new green technologies to the world."

{Photo: Light emitting diodes (Photo by Schubert and Kim courtesy RPI) }

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