LED news and insight from our technology editor Steve Bush, who has been messing with LED lighting for more years than he would care to remember.
Is it really that eco friendly?
When designing products these days, designers have to be very conscious of their choices in regards to materials and processes used for manufacture. A lot of people assume that a products impact on the environment is only relevant when the product is in use. However, products which can be relatively eco friendly to run, such as the Hybrid cars, can be very un-eco friendly to manufacture and dispose of.
This can be down to a number of things:
- Materials chosen.
- Manufacturing processes.
- Number of components.
Manufacturers have become very aware of this, and, some, are required by law to conduct an LCA study (Life Cycle Analysis). This is when a manufacturer, for example a fridge manufacturer, must look into how their product affects the environment throughout it’s life time.
The reason I think this is relevant to LEDs is because, eco friendly lighting seems very focused on how much energy the bulbs use when used by the consumer. If we look at the general construction of an LED bulb we can assess it’s environmental impact in comparison to other bulbs.
Parts: Heatsink, Lens, LED, Wiring housing, pins, screws
Materials: Aluminium, PVC, PC
Disassemblable : Yes
The negatives with the LED is that there are a large number of components, which will take up manufacturing energy. However, these are disassemblable so can be disposed of individually. If we look at the main use of material for the LED, the heatsink, we can focus this topic more.
Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the earth’s core, it also has a low melting point in comparison to other metals and can be cast (which is the lowest carbon emitting process used to form metals). For the amount of time that LED bulbs last, the production energy of the components divided by the years of use probably works out to be very low per year, add that to the amount of energy LED bulbs use in their life time and you have a very eco friendly product.
LED is the supposedly the more eco friendly option to CFL bulbs. As I’m sure many of you are aware, CFL bulbs contain mercury gas. The problem with this is the large environmental hazard they pose when being disposed of. Compact fluorescents also use up a large amount of energy when first starting up, which, when being used for short periods of light, makes them not environmentally friendly at all.
What I am really interested in, is whether LED is still more environmentally friendly when it comes to big Wattages. As I mentioned in a previous article, LED’s require heatsinks to disperse the heat they create. The higher the wattage, the higher the surface area needed to disperse the heat. My question is, is it more environmentally friendly to use CFL when higher Wattages are required?
LED and CFL give off, roughly, the same amount of lumens per Watt. However, if the LED needs a very large heatsink to compete with the light output of the CFL bulb. Does the production energy used to create the LEDs heatsink outweigh the start of energy and impact of the Mercury in the CFL when it is disposed of? I believe more research needs to be done on this to decide whether LED should be developed to produce higher Wattages, or just reserved for lower levels of light.