March 12, 2012
Let There Be Lighting
By: Eric Anderson
Source: Times Union
NISKAYUNA — Thomas Edison may have invented his incandescent light bulb in New Jersey, but it was here in 1909 that another GE scientist developed ductile tungsten filaments, allowing it to burn longer and brighter than ever.
While the Capital Region has long played a role in lighting, within the past 15 years the mission has expanded, attracting researchers, designers and entrepreneurs, all working to develop and use solid-state lighting such as LEDs, or light-emiting diodes.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center in downtown Troy has served as a catalyst as researchers there examine lighting's role in everything from health and safety issues to its use in agriculture and aviation. Fly on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner and you'll see the LRC's work in its interior lighting.
Russ Leslie, the LRC's director, said the center has grown from two people at its founding 1988 to a staff of 40. LRC was launched with support from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, Leslie added.
It attracted Janet Moyer to the Capital Region, a renowned landscape lighting designer who founded The Landscape Lighting Resource, a nonprofit foundation providing education and training for designers.
Last weekend, Moyer hosted an invitation-only gathering of 30 lighting designers in Troy to develop what she's calling the world's first permanent landscape lighting exhibition. The groups tested new lighting sources and will install them in coming months.
"There's always been the presence of some of the bigger lighting companies here," Leslie said, "but with the changes happening in lighting — solid state, lighting controls, societal issues such as light pollution and light and health — there's been an increase in how light can affect safety and energy usage."
At the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, Shadi Shahedipour-Sandvik, an associate professor of engineering, is tackling costs and efficiency of LEDs.
"We've been doing solid-state lighting research for several years now," she said Thursday. "We are improving solid-state lighting efficiency. We're also approaching it from a cost issue too."
CNSE is uniquely positioned to explore more efficient ways to produce silicon-based LEDs. After all, this is where the world's major semiconductor companies have set up shop to work on common challenges to fabricating next-generation microprocessors.
Shahedipour-Sandvik works closely with other researchers, most notably at the GE Global Research Center, where a lighting team is looking at improved LEDs and developing organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs.
Another focus at GE is looking for substances that could replace rare earth elements in fluorescent light fixtures.
Vikas Midha, who oversees lighting research programs at the GE labs, says that the move to LEDs is "a period of transition" for the lighting industry, but that halogen and fluorescent lights both remain important to the market.
One challenge is making LEDs bright enough to be used for general lighting purposes. Midha says progress is steady.
GE already has 40-watt incandescent equivalents, he said, and 60-watt LEDs are imminent.
Work is continuing on 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs.
The LRC, he said, will have a role in testing and certifying the lights as they come on market, "determining what's real and what's not."
He recalled the quality of many off-brand compact fluorescent bulbs was spotty in the early years, and that "it's something we'll go through with LEDs."
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs launching lighting companies are working with the nation's only lighting incubator, called Linc / The Lighting Cultivator, at the Saratoga Technology + Energy Park in Malta.
LINC has worked with more than 200 companies over the years, and has nine that it's helping currently, said Eugene Schuler, its executive director.
"We're trying to attract companies to New York state," he said. "We work with them to help them find funding, with the idea they'll manufacture or assemble here, creating jobs."
LINC has had some success. ProTerra Lighting USA is establishing an LED production plant in Amsterdam, while Moser Baer Technologies is developing an OLED pilot plant in western New York state.
The market opportunities are almost endless, Schuler said.
"Almost 25 percent of energy usage in this country is for lighting," he said. Working with the LRC and the private sector, "we've become a clearinghouse for people looking for information and support."
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