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Prospects seem bright for energy-efficient light

A new light bulb is being promoted by the Energy Department as a cheaper, more energy-efficient way to provide lighting in the 21st century.

The lighting system, under development by Fusion Lighting Inc. of Rockville, Md., uses sulfur particles that are bombarded by microwaves to produce a bright light that resembles sunlight, according to department officials.

Christine Ervin, the department's assistant secretary for energy-efficiency programs, called the new lighting technology very promising and said potentially it "can save large amounts of energy and at the same time deliver more quantity and better quality light."

The bulb is not being produced commercially yet.

Kent Kipling, vice president of Fusion Lighting, acknowledged "a great deal of work still needs to be done" to perfect the system for widespread use. But he added, "The benefits of this new light source are just beginning to be realized."

A prototype of the system recently was installed to illuminate the entryway of the Energy Department's Forrestal headquarters building. Two of the new-technology bulbs, attached to the ends of a 240-foot-long, 10-inch-diameter reflector, provide enough light to replace 240 175-watt mercury lamps that previously lit the entry area, officials said.

The new lighting system cut energy consumption for the entryway area by 60 percent, the department said in a statement.

Development of the lamp began three years ago when technicians at Fusion Lighting, a small high-technology start-up company in a suburb of Washington, substituted sulfur for mercury in a bulb. They discovered that when bombarded by microwaves the sulfur produced a bright, white light similar to sunlight.

Because the new bulb emits a relatively low-temperature light, the discovery meshed well with a new lighting pipe design developed by a Vancouver, British Columbia, inventor, A.L. Whitehead, according to Energy Department officials.

The combination produced the system used at the Energy Department headquarters and one that is expected to be ideal for a variety of outdoor or large, commercial uses, said Ervin.

Fusion Lighting Inc., a privately held company, is a spinoff of Fusion Systems Corp., a publicly held company that pioneered the use of microwave generators for producing ultraviolet light for various commercial purposes.

How the new light bulb works

Microwaves bombard a mixture of sulfur and argon gas inside a golf-ball size bulb. Electrons in the sulfur molecule, energized by the heated gas, emit bright light which is directed by reflectors down a long "light pipe." A film reflects the light rays, but some escape through holes to illuminate the area outside the "light pipe."