The End of the Road for T12s

It’s only five months away. T12 fluorescent lamps used to be the standard for commercial lighting systems, but they will soon be totally off the market.

It started back in July 2010, when the U.S. Department of Energy introduced a fluorescent lighting mandate that stopped the production of the magnetic ballasts most commonly used for T12 lamps. And on July 14, 2012, the manufacture and import of most T12 lamps in the U.S. will be halted. After that date, suppliers may sell their remaining inventory, but there will be no more production once the existing stock is depleted.

Now, keep in mind that T12 fluorescent technology is 70 years old. John Philip Bachner of the National Lighting Bureau wrote a fantastic article recently about why they’re being phased out. He challenges facility managers to think of the change as an opportunity rather than a nuisance, and relates a T12 fluorescent lamp to a ’38 Chevy: Both were technological marvels of their eras. You’d think it were strange if someone used a ’38 Chevy for their daily commute, yet millions of T12 fluorescent lamps light U.S. buildings every day.

T12 fluorescent lamps are simply fluorescent tubular light fixtures that are 12/8ths of an inch in diameter. Since the technology of T12 lamps was developed so long ago, it’s leaps and bounds behind in terms of efficiency. T12 lamps can now be replaced by T5 lamps (5/8ths of an inch in diameter) and T8 lamps (8/8ths of an inch in diameter), and building owners will see energy savings as high as 45% per year. Also, there’s a simple payback of just one to three years. Finally, the lighting upgrade will ensure reduced maintenance costs and concerns. Read More

10 Years of Lighting in the U.S. – What’s Changed, and Why Fluorescent Lighting is Making a Difference

Ten years ago, the Department of Energy released a report on the state of the U.S. lighting market. This week, they published the follow-up report. The numbers reveal how far the lighting industry has come in ten years, and they indicate a few interesting trends:

We’re becoming more efficient. This one’s no surprise. Technological advancements improve energy-efficient lighting in terms of performance and efficacy month by month, so ten years certainly showed strides toward sustainability. Most notably, fluorescent light fixtures made a big impact. In the residential sector, the shift was from incandescent to compact fluorescent lamps; in the commercial sector, it was from T12 to T8 and T5 fluorescent lamps. As you can see in the chart below, linear fluorescent light fixtures now make up the largest portion of the commercial sector as well as the largest portion of the total.

Overall, the efficacy of lighting improved by 29 percent – an increase from 45 lumens per watt in 2001 to 58 lumens per watt in 2010.

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Update on the Rare Earth Element Situation

According to The New York Times, supply is finally beginning to catch up with demand in the rare earth element market.

A few months ago, I posted about the Chinese government’s export restrictions on rare earth elements. The bad news for the lighting industry was that China’s nationwide production cap was causing the price of fluorescent light bulbs to rapidly increase. (Rare earth elements are a crucial component to the process of creating a fluorescent light bulb).

However, it seems that international prices for rare earth elements have fallen since August and are continuing to decline! The timeline for the impact on the lighting industry is unclear at this point. For more information, read this article.

The Truth About CFLs and Mercury

There is more mercury in one bite of albacore tuna than there is in one CFL.

Yes, CFLs contain mercury. So do laptop computers, TVs, telephones, and tuna fish sandwiches.

On average, CFLs contain 4 milligrams of mercury each (that amount would almost cover the tip of a ballpoint pen). LCD projector TVs, by comparison, contain 500-100 milligrams of mercury. One bite of albacore tuna contains more mercury than a CFL.

Many people think about mercury emissions in a very simplistic manner. (Sure, the mercury in a CFL may be a trace amount, but incandescent light bulbs don’t contain any – which makes incandescent light bulbs better for the environment, right?) Read More

Will the Future of Fluorescent Lighting Be Shaky?

A mine in Baiyun Obo, which produces half the world's rare earth elements. Photo courtesy of Treehugger.

Remember our post on why fluorescent light bulbs are becoming more expensive?

Well, the Chinese government is beginning to enforce those export restrictions on rare earth elements. According to an article in Times LIVE, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology will now punish rare earth producers that fail to stick to the nationwide production cap.

Enterprises exceeding quotas will have licenses cancelled, and will also face government action if they are caught buying ore from mines that violate government guidelines.

It is unclear whether the production cap for 2011 of 93,800 tonnes has already been met, but a number of plants have closed down.

What does this mean for fluorescent lighting? For a fluorescent light bulb to create light, there must be a phosphor coating inside its glass envelope. While phosphor is not a rare earth element, rare earth elements are a crucial component to the process of creating the light-producing tri-phosphors inside the lamps.

The production cap is meant to crack down on illegal production of rare earth elements. However, since China produces about 97 percent of the global supply, the policy is affecting the production of countless products in the green tech industry that count on rare earth minerals.

Why Are CFLs Becoming More Expensive?

The Chinese government has recently been restricting exports of rare earth elements, and the policy changes are affecting the global markets for everything from compact fluorescent light bulbs to iPhones.

China controls 97% of the world’s supply of rare earth metals – 17 elements that are vital to the electronics, defense, and renewable energy industries.

Due to China’s export caps, the cost to manufacture fluorescent light bulbs is skyrocketing.  (Standard compact fluorescent light bulbs require a phosphor coating inside their glass envelopes to create light, and phosphor is made from rare earth elements).

Earlier this month, China eased some of the export curbs, but the European Union and the United States were not satisfied that the change would be enough to restore stable supplies.  The higher cost of rare earth elements will affect the cost of all fluorescent light bulbs, CFLs included.