It’s a small world on airplanes flying between technology coasts. This time on the San Francisco to Boston run, I cornered Udi Meirav, CEO of Luminus, which is doing great things with LED lighting. The small world part is that two years ago, I wrote about Luminus’ Phlatlight technology just as it was entering the projection TV market. Compared to TVs using mercury arc lamps, Phlatlight LEDs produce a superior picture, last much longer and are kinder to the environment given they don’t contain mercury. Luminus Phlatlight LEDs can be found in the Samsung 1080p DLP units, but now TVs are the its “legacy” business, says Meirav. Since I last caught up with the company, Luminus has moved into the “pocket projectors” market and has struck deals to produce light engines for Samsung and LG units. But now it’s eyeing the much bigger general lighting market defined as street lamps, industrial and home lighting. In February LLF, formerly LED Lighting Fixtures, was brought by Cree and already makes LED can lighting typically found in kitchens. It’s now the LED Lighting Solutions unit of Cree.
But much work remains to be done to get the costs down (An LED is a semiconductor, BTW). For instance, a 60-watt incandescent light bulb produces about 800 lumens, according to Meirav. While a 15-20 watt LED can produce 800 lumens of warm friendly glow, it costs about $80 versus under $1 for an incandescent bulb, says Meirav.
But LEDs have a lot going for them. We already reap comparable electricity savings from CFLs, but the problem is the mercury they contain which has to be recycled or cleaned up if a CFL is broken. Drop one of those puppies on the floor and you’re looking at possibly thousands in hazardous waste clean up costs. And finding a place where you can recycle dead CFLs isn’t easy, either.
Only the most elite pocketbooks will open for LEDs at current prices, but the cost will come down. Cree maintains the electricity savings over incandescent bulbs already make LEDs quickly pay for themselves. Be that as it may, Cree makes it real difficult to find the actual cost of its big product, the 12-watt and 650 lumen LR6 can light. I suppose that’s to avoid sticker shock.
So I called a nearby Design Lighting and Electrical Supplies in N. Andover, Mass. which which carries the LR6. A nice salesman said that with the can and trim, they cost between $140-$145 apiece (a bit lower in volume) versus about $45 for an incandescent can. But he pitched the LR6 hard and said they pay for themselves within five years and last for 17. “We can’t keep them in the store,” he said. Our kitchen cans have CFLs in them, but I am intrigued by the LR6.
As for Luminus, it will announce its general lighting strategy in a couple of weeks, Meirav said. And next week, the company will get the the Display Component of the Year Gold Award for its Backlit Unit at the SID show in Los Angeles.
For a technology journalist, the run between San Francisco to Boston has always been productive. The trip home to Boston last night did not disappoint.