Researchers at Wake Forest University have developed a lighting material that could rival the king of lighting, LEDs. Using nanotechnology, the researchers created a plastic material that glows when an electric current runs through it. It's just as energy efficient as LEDs and twice as efficient as compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, but it has one major advantage over both of those. Because it's made with plastic, it can be made into any shape.
The material creates a soft white light similar to sunlight and could be shaped into anything from bulbs that fit into household lamps to large, flat ceiling panels that could replace the awful fluorescent lighting in many office buildings.
"People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them," said David Carroll, the light's lead researcher. "The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more."
LED lighting tends to have a bluish tint, while fluorescents can be yellow. The plastic material gives off a light close to sunlight, which our eyes prefer, but it could be made to emit any color.
“If you wanted blue lights, discos would still be popular. You want lights that have a spectral content that is appealing to us inside of a building,” Carroll said. “You want a light that won’t shatter and create a hazmat situation while your children are around.”
The technology builds off of a decade of research in field-induced polymer electroluminescence. The Wake Forest researchers added multi-walled carbon nanotubes to three layers of moldable white-emitting polymer, which they say "effectively doped the polymer" and led to a five-fold increase in the light emitted by the device compared to the polymer without the nanotubes.
The material could also be used for larger light installations like light displays, marquee lighting, bus and subway signs. The researchers have already partnered with a company to bring a product to market by next year.