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New 'plasma lamps' to replace fluorescent bulbs, LEDs

Boffins bid for spinout riches on flat, bendy glow-sheets

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Boffins hope to be rolling in cash after finding a new way to use plasma to make light bulbs.

The research team, which was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, has made wafer-thin, flexible sheets of light by putting plasma in an array of micro-cavities in a sheet of aluminium foil, and now hopes to build a company from the discovery.

The foil has a thickness of just 125 microns, and then the cavities are sealed with very thin sheets of glass, creating a "bulb" that is one or two millimetres thick.

A number of gases can be used to make the plasma needed for the arrays, but in the commercial versions of the lights, rare gases produce ultraviolet light and special phosphors convert the UV into visible light.

The company set up to market the bulbs is called Eden Park Illumination after the two boffins who came up with the arrays, Gary Eden and Sung-Jin Park.

Apart from being flat and flexible, the new lights are more energy efficient because of their shape: an ordinary fluorescent light tube has an efficiency of around 75 to 80 lumens per watt, but a lot of that is lost because of its 360 degree design. The arrays have a utilisation efficiency of over 90 per cent so a smaller array has the same output.

The plasma lights can be dimmed, they don't contain mercury and they generate far less heat than LEDs. You won't be seeing the bulbs at your corner shop anytime soon though, because although the materials to manufacture the arrays are cheap, the rate of production isn't up to speed yet. ®

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