Replacing the incandescent light bulb is no joke. Commercialized by Thomas Edison more than a century ago, the light bulb ranks with the printing press, electricity, and penicillin as one of the great inventions that changed the world. But its huge success also became a weakness. Lighting now represents as much a fifth of a household’s energy consumption.
But that transition has not been easy. People cherish the warm glow of the incandescent bulb. Many customers still consider LEDs expensive and some CFLs initially turned off users with their slow startup time and cool hard light.
But GE engineers went to work to make the CFL as appealing as the warm lights of yore. GE’s new “Bright From the Start” CFL is a shining result of that effort. It sports what BusinessWeek called a “ship in a bottle” look, with the trademark fluorescent tube twisted around a tiny halogen light and trapped inside an old-fashioned glass bulb. But that’s just the start. Inside, the bulb is a bundle of innovation. It contains four pending patent applications and the design process delivered seven other breakthroughs.
What kind of inventions? One controls the tiny halogen light at the center of the bulb. The halogen makes the bulb bright from the start and compensates for the initial lack of luminosity while the CFL is warming up. But the halogen is also very power hungry and its lifetime is much shorter than the CFL’s. GE engineers developed an electrical timer, which “tells” the halogen that it can turn off faster if the CFL is still warm because it was recently used.
The bulb shows its smarts. Good Housekeeping magazine spent 12,000 hours testing 1,500 consumer products and picked GE’s Bright From the Start CFL as one of the 10 recipient its 2012 Very Innovative Product Award (VIP). The CFL was the only light source in the lot. The bulb, now on sale in the U.S., is available in 15-watt and 20-watt versions. They emit as much light as their 60-watt and 75-watt incandescent counterparts. The bulbs also contain just 1 milligram of mercury, a fraction of 1.5 to 3.5 milligrams present in a typical CFL. “Here at GE, we know this bulb’s unique design and function epitomize the concept of innovating to meet customers’ needs,” said John Strainic, Global Product General Manager of GE Lighting. “We heard how customers wanted CFLs to perform better, and we went to work to make it happen!”