What we have now is wonderful but it's not the end of the application of electronics to lighting. Electroluminescence is where many people think the future of lighting is going to be.
This growing science concerns finding and manipulating materials that emit cool light because of molecular excitation as an electrical current passes through them or an electromagnetic field passes over them.
Electroluminescent Smart Materials.
Electroluminescent materials are light-generating materials, among the substances called "smart materials." These are substances whose general properties can be significantly changed by stresses, temperature change, moisture, acidity, electrical or magnetic stimulation.
Researchers at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, have recently announced the development of a variation from LED lighting using alternative materials that glow when stimulated with a small electrical charge.
The innovation is in the materials they use to generate light. It is a blend of polymer plastics imbued with a small amount of nanomaterial. Called "field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) lighting technology, this special product of molecular-level nano-engineered polymer plastic creates an entirely new type of lighting, a cousin of crystal-based LED lighting, but not the same.
The electrically stimulated polymer material gives off a soft white glow without the hum of the ballast needed for fluorescent lighting, nor the sharp bluish bias in the color of LED lights.
FIPEL lights do not depend on a vacuum glass housing. They have no hazardous material to leak out if the housing breaks like compact fluorescent bulbs do. It is as efficient as its LED cousin, about twice as efficient as fluorescent lighting and needs no voltage flow management.
LED lights generate a glow that is not quite full spectrum and can be irritating to the human eye. FIPEL lighting is tunable. It can be manufactured to generate light in any color, making it potentially useful for billboard displays.
It can be made in any shape, so it can be molded into bulbs to fit into standard fixtures, or into large sheets or panels that could form ceiling tiles or wall spaces. It could bring us lighting that is embedded in the spaces around us.
LEDs are made using semiconducting crystals which are inorganic, silicon-based crystals made in the same way as digital chips. FIPEL lighting uses organic polymer materials that can be molded and shaped as any plastic, which brings the cost of lighting materials down and improves the potential flexibility of lighting design.
To make light strings using LED crystals, for instance, one has to distribute individual light units into a transparent or translucent tube. To make light strings with a FIPEL system, one simply has to mold the electroluminescent material into a string and add an electrical connection.
The Future of Lighting.
Researchers in electroluminescent smart materials are experimenting with a wide range of materials including coatings and dies that can literally paint or color materials with stable luminescence by attaching an electrical charge.
Thin batteries and methods of generating electricity from light to be applied to electroluminescent displays and readouts are being developed. Smart materials that generate light under very low voltages are being developed. Paper-thin light-generating electroluminescent panels and screens are being developed for a number of purposes (IDTechEx on YouTube).
The idea of lighting is itself being transformed, now that the human race is free of the constraints of light bulbs and light tubes with their vacuum maintenance problems and their power demands.
Lighting has come to mean the lighting of whole walls or ceilings, light from cables or wires, light in the smallest of displays, light from paper-thin panels. Research has brought us to a place where we can manufacture materials which generate light as they serve other functions.
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