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Incandescent Light Bulbs are Coming Back

With the introduction of LED bulbs into the market, came the end of the traditional incandescent bulbs. LED, the energy saving light bulb was the new choice for people to light up their homes, businesses and establishments.

It wasn’t long after, that the EU government passed measures to phase out the incandescent light bulbs in favour of more energy efficient bulbs. In 2007, the UK government announced plans to completely phase out incandescent bulbs by 2011 however, the traditional light bulb continued to exist as many manufacturers continued to sell them.


Traditional light bulbs have a much more natural glow as it has a colour rendering index rating of 100, compared to LED and florescent light bulbs which have an index rating of 80 or less. According to Principle Research Scientist Ivan Celanovic,

that is precisely the reason why incandescent lights remained dominant for so long, their warm light has remained preferable to drab fluorescent lighting for decades.

Even though, the energy consumption of LEDs is 80% less and last up to 25 times longer, most people think that the light from LEDs is less natural compared to the warm glow of traditional light bulbs.

Recently scientists have come with a solution that could solve the problem by reinventing the incandescent light bulb. Research carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) show that

by surrounding the filament with a special crystal structure in the glass they can bounce back the energy which is usually lost in heat, while still allowing the light through.

The technique is referred to as ‘recycling light’ which allows the energy to be redirected back to the filament to create new light instead of escaping into air. Professor Marin Soljacic explains that,

It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted.


Generally, traditional light bulbs only have about 5 % efficiency, with the rest 95% of the energy turning into heat rather than light. However, scientists believe that the new bulbs have the potential of reaching 40% efficiency as compared to the 14% efficiency of LED and florescent light bulbs.

Prof Marin Soljacic explains,

Thomas Edison was not the first one to work on the design of the light bulb, but what he did was figure out how to mass produce it cheaply and keep it stable longer than 10 hours, these are still the two critical criteria. These are the questions we are trying to answer now.

He points out that,

improving light bulbs is but one of the options that could spring from this development and could have ‘dramatic implications’ for the performance of other energy conversion technologies.

A report by the Energy Saving Trust shows that,

a typical living room usage of a 60-watt incandescent lightbulb over a year would cost £7.64. Using an equivalent energy efficient fluorescent or ‘CFL’ lightbulb would cost £1.53 per year, while an LED would cost just £1.27.’

Based on what scientists are trying to achieve, the new bulb could cost under 50p a year to operate. According to the Department Head of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, Professor Gang Chen,

The lighting potential of this technology is exciting.