Monday, February 20, 2012

More Than Lighting: A Look at Li-Fi

Most of our blog discussions here at Bulb Direct focus on issues of illumination – lumens, wattages, and the like. Of course, we’re also interested in the evolving technology of lighting, from CFLs to oLEDs, to name a few of the bulbs you’ve become familiar with over the past several months. This article  describes a completely new use for LEDs – not for illumination, and not for electronic displays. A German engineer has figured out a way to use LEDs to access the internet.

Of course, we’re lighting specialists here, but this development is just downright fascinating. And who knows, maybe one day you will, in fact, be planning your wireless connectivity and your home lighting hand-in-hand. The root of the technology is fairly simple, making use of the rapid and uniform on-off capabilities of LEDs: by rapidly flicking the diode on and off, binary code (the strings of “1”s and “0”s that make up the base of all data transmission) can be replicated and read by your laptop, cell phone, tablet, or other enabled device.

One of our biggest suppliers, Osram, actually supplied the LEDs used in similar research by Siemens: data was able to be transmitted over 5 meters (around 15 feet). A research facility in Berlin last year achieved 800Mbps transmission speeds using the technology, known as VLC (visible light communication). Your wireless at home likely hovers around 100Mbps. The speed is certainly impressive, but that first figure – the distance – may have given you pause. Fifteen feet is hardly enough to cover your whole home or office the way a wireless router can, and that’s one of the limitations of VLC – data can only be transmitted as far as the light is visible.

Li-fi, as it is called, will likely not completely replace existing wireless infrastructures. Rather, it can ease bandwidth burdens in homes and offices that are wired for it. One promising application of the technology is airplanes: rather than miles of hard-wiring within plane fuselages, li-fi could provide for less hardware, and lighter aircraft. It could also be the only option for planes constructed modularly, without the option for wiring.

This is a technology that we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on at Bulb Direct. We’ll be the first to let you know when we’re covering not only your lighting needs, but your internet access as well!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Rare Earth News Update, February 2012

Paydirt … the new refinery for rare earth metals being built
in Kuantan, Malaysia.  Photo: The New York Times
It’s been a little while since our last blog update on the rare earth crisis, but our regular readers – and bulb industry insiders – are probably familiar with the implications of limited access to those materials, like europium, yttrium, and dysprosium, and its effect on CFL manufacturing. The situation was thrust back into the spotlight recently, with the opening of a rare earth refinery in Malaysia finally occurring after months of delay, and news coverage from a number of outlets such from The Australian to the New York Times.

With this plant opening – and the reopening of debate over the viability and sustainability of rare earths – comes a perfect time to re-examine the importance of these materials to our industry. This article lays out some of the difficulties facing U.S. rare earth importers until at least 2015. With increasing interest in energy-efficient bulbs – and legislation to phase in a shift to CFLs on the horizon for the next several years – this predicted shortage most likely spells a crunch leading to lower supply and increased demand.

The opening of the Malaysian facility may provide some light at the end of this tunnel, as its goal is to increase competition with Chinese rare earth suppliers and ease some of the price burden on bulb manufacturers. As most articles about the opening have pointed out, though, there are significant questions about the safety and environmental responsibility of the refinery. Of course, Bulb Direct would not sacrifice price in favor of unsustainable and unsafe operations. Until the situation plays itself out, be sure to follow our social media sites and our blog to learn more about rare earths, CFLs, LEDs, and other illumination options. And as always, contact us with any questions!