Monday, January 22, 2007

Breakthrough nanotech product?

OK, so we’ve got nanopants, nanotech golf club shafts, nanosilver coated washing machines, and several hundred (1) other “nano” products. I have just one question for you: “Have you seen any of these products make a huge dent in their respective markets?” No? Neither have I. Don’t get me wrong, these are all cool products, but none of them, so far, have displaced their “old tech” counterparts to any significant degree.

Well, soon we’ll have, for our homes and offices, white light LED lighting devices. Why does this matter? It matters because these “bulbs” could reduce your lighting bill by 90%. Could white light LED bulbs be the product that brings nanotech into every household? And in so doing be the breakthrough that pundits and investors have been salivating over for the past 6+ years?

In order for those questions to be answered, we must ask another: “What will consumers and businesses buy lots and lots of?” Answer: Firstly, Things that save them money! Consider the previously mentioned 90% reduction in your lighting bill. Consider the impact it could have on your household expenses. Consider the impact it could have on offices, industrial buildings, factories, etc., where every penny saved can and often does mean a penny reduction in product costs. Secondly, things that satisfies their desire to “go green” (which we’ll save for another day). We also have to ask about cost: “What will this product cost over it’s life-span?” We’ll get to that in a bit.

In an article by Pacific Gas and Electric (2) on LED holiday light strands (the colored variety, not the pure white ones), they compare the operating costs of LED strands against mini incandescent and large incandescent strands. The estimated cost of running a strand of large incandescent bulbs for 225 hours is $76.55, and for the mini incandescent, $4.92. The estimated cost of running the LED strand is $.47 – that’s right, 47 cents! Yes, they cost more up front (3), but consider this, they are estimated to last for more than 50,000 hours. Compare that to the average of 750 hours for incandescent bulbs, and 10,000 hours for compact fluorescent bulbs (4), and I think you will reach the same conclusion that many other penny-wise households have: over a fairly short period, LED bulbs save $$$ (the article puts it this way “LED light strings (will) more than pay for themselves within a season or two”).

Referring back to the PG&E article (4), let’s do a little math, using updated cost estimates for compact fluorescent bulbs. A quick search at Google finds several dot-coms selling compact fluorescent bulbs for as little as $10 per. And if memory serves, I have purchased them on sale for as little as $3 per. OK then, on to the calculations.

According to a DOE study done in 1993, US households “contain a total of 523 million lights that are on 1 or more hours a day--282 million of these are on 4 or more hours a day.” For their calculations they used a cost of about $22 each for compact fluorescent bulbs, compared to 75 cents each for incandescent bulbs. They determined that “Potential aggregate U.S. household energy savings for replacement of all incandescent bulbs used more than 4 hours per day amounts to 31.7 billion kWh annually.” And this was in 1993, when we spent ~5 cents per kWh, which would yield nearly $1.6 billion in savings. Today, here in Oregon we are apparently spending ~7.62 cents per kWh (5), whereas in Connecticut they are spending ~17.27 cents per kWh (Note to residents of Connecticut: Don’t be mad at us Oregonians for our “cheap” electricity; we pay more for gasoline than any state except Hawaii). The average across the US was (in Oct. 2006) 10.55 cents/kWh, which, if you use it with the 1993 figure of 31.7 billion kWh savings, comes to ~$3.5 billion. And that, folks, ain’t peanuts!

Without belaboring the math, consider the annual savings now that the cost of a compact fluorescent bulb is no higher than $10 (and on sale at around $3). A rough calculation indicates several billion more in savings.

OK then, how about extrapolating the savings we might realize by replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs? Well, we can’t, at least not until we get some cost estimates, which currently are unavailable. That said, at the end of the day, I’d pay a premium for them, just as I do now for the compact fluorescent bulbs I use.

Which brings us to an article I read today at Nanotechnology Now, titled Lighting the way - LED for home use will make for most efficient bulb.

PolyBrite International, a maker of “LED collars for dogs, armbands for joggers, batons for the military to land aircraft and batons for police to direct traffic” is set to produce white light LEDs.

“PolyBrite has developed the first screw-in, white-light (LED) bulbs in the typical sizes used in the home, such as the equivalent to 65- and 75-watt bulbs, each using 90 percent less energy than traditional lighting.”

“It used nanotechnology to build a bulb lens from nano-sized silicon that lets through 40 percent more light than is possible with other materials, creating a bright white bulb.”

According to the article, expect to see these bulbs become available to the office market within 60 days, and for the home within the next year.

Like many other households, in an effort to reduce electricity use in our house we have replaced incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, even though they cost more up front. So if these new LED bulbs live up to their billing, then I won’t be surprised if they become the first major nanotech-enabled products that displaces several old technologies.

As I said earlier, pricing is not currently available, but if they start out even close to the price of compact fluorescent bulbs then expect the market for them to boom. And once it does, expect the price to drop as production scales up. Even if they come in at $40 per, they will, over time, save you money.

And I won’t get into their use in China, with over 1.3 billion potential electric lighting consumers and a rapidly growing industrial capacity; that’s a whole other blog post, for another day.

Oh yeah, did you catch that I didn’t factor in the escalating cost of energy, the worldwide movement to green technologies, and the real cost of oil? Consider these when you think about how rapidly energy saving technologies like these LEDs will start to change the game.



(3) “a string of 35 LED lights costs from $8 to $10, while a string of 100 LED lights retails for $10 to $15”



To learn more, visit these links:

Lighting The Way,CST-FIN-led22.article

The Advantages of LED Lights

High-efficiency Fluorescent Lighting Cost Savings Calculator

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