Revolutionising the light bulb

Lighting Technology inaugural demonstration coincides with 130th anniversary of Sir Joseph Swan’s first public demonstration of the incandescent light bulb

THE future of lighting technology went on display for the first time at an event held on the 130-year anniversary of inventor Sir Joseph Swan’s ground-breaking demonstration of his incandescent light bulb.

Sir Joseph unveiled his remarkable invention to the Chemistry Society of Gateshead in 1878. It was the first glimpse of a technology that was to revolutionise the way in which we live.

Dr Geoff Williams of lighting giant Zumtobel will re-enact that ground-breaking display when he showcases the first samples of his next generation lighting technology in Sedgefield, County Durham – a mere 30 miles down the road from where Sir Joseph first amazed the Gateshead chemists.

Dr Williams is leading a £3.3m project to develop a new form of lighting that is far more efficient, far more environmentally-friendly and considerably more flexible in its applications than current light sources. As the technology develops, its applications are expected to become widespread and revolutionary in the way they impact on every facet of people’s daily lives.

The motor industry is already closely monitoring its progress due to its potential to tackle the causes of driver fatigue at night as well as its more practical space saving capabilities. The construction sector will have the ability to build far more energy efficient structures, not to mention the far wider design capabilities the new lighting offers.

The technology also has potential health benefits because it is capable of emitting a far wider spectrum of light – much closer to the properties of daylight – than current lighting methods.

It uses minimal amounts of energy by comparison with traditional lighting – using a 4 to 5 volt DC current instead of the UK standard 240V AC. This will allow Third World hospitals to be lit using only battery or solar power.

The Thin Organic Polymeric Light Emitting Semi-conducting Surfaces (TOPLESS) Project, part funded by the Government’s  Technology Strategy Board  fund, is on the brink of small-scale prototype testing at the new £10m Printable Electronics Technology Centre (PETeC), based at the North East Technology Park (NETPark) in Sedgefield, County Durham.

Dr Williams, who is based at the Thorn Lighting site in Spennymoor, County Durham, said: “We are developing  the capability of printing a layer of conductable material – one two-thousandth the thickness of a human hair – on to a thin  glass sheet. When a current is passed through the material it emits light that is already comparable to existing light bulbs. As this technology advances, the quality, brightness and printable space will all grow to enable us to roll out a revolutionary new light source to a whole range of industries.

“The potential for this technology is phenomenal. It is one of the most disruptive technologies to hit our mainstream lives since mobile phones created the freedom for communication. The expertise for developing and manufacturing this technology all lies within North East England creating the potential for a major industry to develop over the coming years.”

Project TOPLESS is a collaborative programme that bridges the divide between academia and commerce. The consortium consists of Zumtobel (Thorn’s parent company), Sumation UK and the University of Durham.

Other speakers on the day included Professor Andy Monkman of Durham University who is involved in the project and Nigel Perry of the Centre for Process Innovation which owns PETeC.

Dr Keith Melton of the New and Renewable Energy Centre (NaREC) in Blyth, Northumberland will outline the environmental benefits of the technology by demonstrating how renewable energy has a key role to play in powering the next generation lighting.


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