It's a halogen, it's a CFL, it's Superbulb!

It's a halogen, it's a CFL, it's Superbulb!

The traditional incandescent bulb is now in the cross-hairs of regulators worldwide thanks to the fact that only about 10% of the electricity it uses goes toward producing light. In the U.S., new lighting standards requiring bulbs to be at least 25% more efficient go into effect this coming January. The legislation will effectively ban the sale of 100-W incandescent bulbs in the U.S. Regulations will begin impacting other common incandescent wattages in 2013 and 2014.

Energy-saving replacement bulbs are ready and waiting, comprised of three main types — compact fluorescent (CFL), halogen incandescent, and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Each costs more upfront than ordinary incandescent bulbs, but burns less energy and lasts longer. The DOE says a CFL lasts roughly 10 times as long as an incandescent, and LEDs can last 25 times longer. Halogen incandescent bulbs last only slightly longer than traditional incandescents, though they cost less to operate.

Still, there are consumers who are less than thrilled with the operation of CFLs and LEDs. For them comes another bulb type — debuted on Earth Day by GE Lighting — called a hybrid halogen-CFL. Built in the shape of an incandescent bulb, the new hybrid device includes an instantly bright halogen capsule inside the swirl of a CFL bulb. The capsule, consisting of halogen gas surrounding a wire filament, turns on instantly and stays on for 50 to 60 sec., then turns off once the CFL has reached full brightness.

While traditional incandescent bulbs hold a mix of nitrogen and argon gases, use of halogen helps prolong filament life and reduces the amount of power needed to produce a given amount of light. Once the halogen element in the hybrid bulb turns off, the lamp draws only 15 W to produce 800 lumens — equivalent to a 60-W incandescent bulb. GE's 20-W hybrid produces 1,100 lumens, equivalent to a 75-W incandescent. Both wattages are available in GE's Energy Smart Soft White (2,700 Kelvin) and Reveal (2,500 Kelvin) CFLs. The Soft White offers a warmer light, whereas the Reveal brand produces whiter light thanks to its phosphor coating, says Mike Morris, GE North American CFL product manager.

Morris explains that the CFL technology uses about 75% less energy than incandescents require, and roughly 70% less than halogen incandescents, to produce the same quantity of light. The hybrid bulb is not without its drawbacks, however. Most notable is that the bulb in its present state is not dimmable, something that may change as the product gains consumer acceptance. Further, as with all CFLs, GE's hybrid bulb contains a small amount of mercury. Morris says the GE hybrid holds just an industry-leading 1 mg per bulb, an improvement over other CFL brands typically containing 1.8 to 2 mg per bulb.

Like ordinary CFLs, the new bulbs have built-in ballasts so consumers can simply screw them in light sockets. But their mercury content, though small, makes their end-of-life a concern. “Consumers will need to get used to recycling the new bulb types out of concern for the environment,” says Morris.

As far as choice of bulb type, it all depends on the intended use. “Halogens make sense for spot lighting and directional lighting, whereas CFLs are designed for general-purpose lighting, especially where lights will be on for longer than 20 minutes at a stretch,” says Morris. The new hybrid halogen-CFL would do well where instant brightness is desirable and lack of dimming isn't a show stopper. Morris also notes GE will soon introduce dimmable CFLs that will dim down to 5% of total light output — a big improvement over older dimmable CFLs that dim to just 10% or 20% or total light output.

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