Here comes the graphene LED bulb

Q: How is deflation like an LED light bulb? A: Both discourage you from buying now, because if you wait just a little bit longer, the deals will be even better. 

For LED bulbs, that means not only that prices are coming down, but also that the bulbs themselves keep getting better. The latest example: in a few months you'll be able to purchase a light bulb made with everybody's favourite miracle material, graphene.

The bulb, from a UK startup called Graphene Lighting, 'Is expected to perform significantly better and last longer than traditional LED bulbs,' a press release from the UK's The University of Manchester states (it must be a sign of progress if we can now refer to 'traditional' LED bulbs!). 'It is expected that the graphene lightbulbs will be on the shelves in a matter of months, at a competitive cost.'

That's a lot of great expectations from the university, which is excited because, for among other reasons, it has a financial stake in Graphene Lighting. The company is a spin-out from the National Graphene Institute, founded at the university with British and European government funding to advance commercial applications of graphene.

Graphene Lighting will coat a bulb's LED chips with graphene, improving the bulb's heat removal process, a university spokesperson told Lux. (For those who need reminding: LED bulbs give off light from semiconductors known as light-emitting diodes. And while LEDs are far more efficient than conventional bulbs, they're still inefficient enough to yield heat that must dissipate).

According to the press release, the graphene leads to 'lower energy emissions, longer lifetime and lower manufacturing costs.' The university would not quantify those improvements.

A BBC story  suggested that the bulb will cut energy consumption by 10 per cent over other LED bulbs because it enhances electrical conductivity. The Financial Times (registration may be required), which appears to have broken the story about the bulb, also suggested a 10 per cent improvement.

The university spokesperson told Lux that 'it's too early to say,' whether the 10 per cent figure is accurate.

The BBC story said the bulb uses a filament-shaped LED. The FT said it will be priced lower than the '£15 and more' that it said is typical for comparable dimmable LED bulbs.

Lux has requested an interview with Prof Colin Bailey, a director of Graphene Lighting and deputy president of The University of Manchester, to find out more about the lamp's workings.

The University of Manchester is the birthplace of graphene. Scientists Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov first isolated the wonder material there in 2004, an achievement that earned them the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

'This lightbulb shows that graphene products are becoming a reality, just a little more than a decade after it was first isolated – a very short time in scientific terms,' Prof Bailey said in the press release.

Graphene is a one-atom thin sheet of carbon heralded for having the strength of Superman and conductivity that's 100 times better than today's silicon-based semiconductors.

While graphene orginated in the UK, at one point China had shot ahead in the graphene intelllectual property race .

Potential uses span from building materials through energy and electronics, including semiconductors, solar cells and of course, light bulbs. The BBC noted that it is already used in tennis rackets and skis.

Two years ago, researchers in South Korea and Vietnam said that graphene would help dissipate heat from LED bulbs, and which would help make bulbs brighter. 

Graphene Lighting appears close to delivering a graphene lamp. They'll be under pressure to come through, lest they deflate expectations.

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Photo is from The University of Manchester