Bright Idea: Seeing the Light

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Vu1Move over, Edison. Seattle-based Vu1 Corp. has developed a new type of energy-efficient light bulb to replace the 129-year-old incandescent design. And just in time for a planned phase-out of energy-wasting, short-lived incandescent bulbs starting in 2012.

When they launch onto the market in mid-2010, Vu1's electron stimulated luminescence (ESL) bulbs are expected to be competitively priced, with instant-on and dimming functions, zero toxicity and quality light output using 65 percent to 70 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, as well as lasting six times as long.

ESL works by stimulating a phosphor-coated bulb with electrons, causing the phosphors to glow. By contrast, incandescent bulbs run a current through a filament inside the bulbs, LEDs (light emitting diodes) stimulate electrons in a semiconductor and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) send electricity through mercury vapor to stimulate the phosphor.

The energy-efficient LEDs and CFLs are current leaders in potential replacements, but these two lighting options have deficiencies. LEDs aren't compatible with traditional bases and perform poorly in a recessed environment, while CFLs are expensive, contain toxic mercury and-many attest-put out an inferior quality of light. "The mercury in every CFL sold as of today is enough to pollute every lake, river and stream in North America," says Vu1's chief marketing officer, T. Ron Davis.

The road for Vu1, however, hasn't been easy. The company has about $58 million in debt, largely due to carryover from previous projects. And the public is not generally aware of the mercury hazard in CFLs.

Vu1 received $500,000 in funding last June from Full Spectrum, a recently formed LLC managed by Vu1's new CEO R. Gale Sellers. While the company has not yet begun full-scale production, additional debt financing of up to $15 million could become available at Full Spectrum's discretion as demonstration bulbs continue to be tested.

Vu1 is also pursuing a coveted Energy Star rating from the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, in order to compete against makers of CFL and LED bulbs. "Our reward for now is coming to the office, seeing the great quality of the light and knowing that it's not harmful," says Davis. 

 

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