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Coming to America: Award-Winning MagicBulb Offers Alternative to Mercury CFLs in Face of Impending Ban on Incandescent Bulbs

Published: Thursday, November 11, 2010 2:16 PM EST     3907 Views
Author: Ann Delphus
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In a few short months, consumers in the U.S. will likely have their first opportunity to purchase a new, high-efficiency, long-lasting LED bulb that has earned gold medals for innovation at new product shows worldwide. The MagicBulb appears to have many advantages over the energy-saving compact florescent (CFL) bulbs: the company reports that it should last 5 to 10 years (having been continuously tested for 20,000 hours and counting), and it represents an energy savings of 90 percent when compared to incandescent bulbs and 70 percent when compared to CFL bulbs. It generates more appealing, full-spectrum light that is less eye-fatiguing than CFLs. Its most important attribute may be that it is produced of materials safe for the environment, in contrast to the worrisome levels of toxic mercury in florescent lamps that pollute the environment and are dangerous to factory workers exposed during production.

There is an appealing bonus feature to the MagicBulb: it uses so little electricity to operate that a lithium ion battery built into each bulb stays charged while power is available so it can be used to power the bulb (with the identical level of illumination) for several hours in the event the electricity to the home or office goes off. The video on the company's website as well as on YouTube shows how the consumer can unscrew the bulb from the lamp socket and extend the base to create a handle for an impromptu emergency flashlight.

Invented in Norway by Dr. Lam Shun Yee (who enjoys dual citizenship of Norway and Hong Kong), the MagicBulb was introduced to the European and Japanese markets earlier this year, and in the first six months, the company sold 50,000 units. The current design of the MagicBulb (as pictured) is a spotlight bulb that would be suitable for desk lamps, for some ceiling fixtures, and for other directional lighting. Even better news, however, is that within two to three months – early 2011 – Dr. Lam's company, LED Electronics International, will be introducing an omni-directional light bulb that will serve as a replacement to Edison's archetypal globe-type bulb. According to a spokesman for Dr. Lam's company, this version of LED bulb will be able to cast light in all directions by means of "internal deflection." In his career as an inventor, Dr. Lam has been granted 35 patents for his innovations.

The internal structure of the MagicBulb is identical no matter where it is sold. Although it may be produced with a variety of bases to match different countries' lamp sockets, different bulb designs are not needed for the U.S. and European markets. Unlike a traditional incandescent bulb – which is very sensitive to the voltage level of the power source (as anyone with half-spent batteries in their flashlight knows), the MagicBulb has an integral current regulator that enables it to be used with AC current that can range between 85 volts to 235 volts. Essentially, the same bulb can operate with 110-volt household current in the United States and with 220-volt current in Europe and other markets.

Americans may not yet fully appreciate the importance of MagicBulb entering the marketplace as another option for energy-efficient bulbs. Europeans are now facing the harsh reality of a ban on the sale of 100-watt incandescent bulbs that U.S. consumers are set to face in 2012. Legislating the "extinction" of the incandescent bulb in Europe and Australia has stirred quite a debate between consumers and lawmakers, one that has not (yet) reached a comparable level in the U.S.

In the U.S., incandescent light bulbs are set to be phased out of the marketplace beginning in 2012 due to a law passed in 2007. The European nations enacted legislation that phases out the mass distribution of classic light bulbs much sooner. In September 2010, the month when retailers' supplies of 100-watt incandescent bulbs were not to be restocked, the media reported a run on them in the stores. It seems that many European consumers are not enthusiastically embracing the compact florescent bulbs, seemingly the only alternative to the classic incandescent bulbs. In addition to hoarding supplies of them, European consumers are looking for ways to sidestep the ban; one suggestion on SaveTheBulb.org has been to rename incandescents as "heatballs."

There is indeed widespread evidence that, despite the longer life and energy savings of compact florescent lamps (CFLs), people are not embracing them as enthusiastically as had been hoped. No one claims they produce the same quality of light as classic incandescent bulbs, and in the United States – where electric utility rates are creeping upward – a government report on CFLs stated that fully 30 percent of homes have no CFL bulbs at all, and 64 percent of the homes that do have any CFLs at all have five or fewer.

In September, three members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced H.R. 6144, "Better Use of Light Bulbs Act," to repeal certain amendments to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. Among those who opposed the legislation from the beginning were AFL-CIO union workers affected by General Electric's decision to promote CFLs manufactured in China. At the present time, however, we know that many Chinese workers have suffered from exposure to mercury in the manufacturing of the CFLs and that massive adopters of CFLs (like Great Britain) face a huge recycling dilemma.

If you are interested in the MagicBulb for your home or business, stay tuned for its North American launch, which is expected to occur on one or more television shopping networks in January, followed by availability through big box retailers. The company is now seeking and negotiating with distributors. The MagicBulb is priced at $49 in Japan, and it was reported that the European and Japanese markets generated a demand of roughly 50,000 units during the first six months. Imagine the interest when the omni-directional model makes its debut!

What would Thomas Edison think? After all, the invention of the light bulb and its widespread use was one of the great milestones in human history. His invention, coupled with his system to deliver electricity to homes and businesses, transformed how we lived. If viewed from an environmental or pollution perspective, however, you might say the Mr. Edison's invention of the light bulb removed dangerous smoke and gases from our homes interiors' and instead relegated combustion by-products to an area immediately around the distant electricity generating facility. In those days, that was progress. Today, we define progress a little differently.

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