Researchers at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., hope that the new technology will replace fluorescent lamps, those white tubes widely used in offices, stores and even homes.
"People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes," said David Carroll, the professor leading the project, "and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them."
The new light is based on technology called field-induced polymer electroluminescence, or FIPEL. It's made of three layers of a white-emitting polymer that is blended with a small amount of nano-particles which glow when an electric current is passed through them.
The resulting light is similar to the soft, white glow of sunlight that human eyes prefer. (In contrast, fluorescent bulbs have a yellowish cast and LEDs emit a bluish tinge, possibly triggering headaches in some people.)
The new technology is described in the latest issue of Organic Electronics.
More efficient than CFLs
The FIPEL lights are at least twice as efficient as compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, which have risen in popularity in Canada since the government announced a ban on incandescent bulbs.
Unlike CFL bulbs, FIPEL technology is shatterproof and mercury-free, which means toxic contamination won't be a concern.
"You want a light that won't shatter and create a haz-mat situation while your children are around," Carroll said.
The lights can be moulded into any shape, from large sheets for offices to small bulbs that would fit into household lamps and light fixtures.
They are also long-lasting. Carroll said he has one that has worked for about a decade.
Wake Forest University is working with a company to manufacture the technology, which could be available for consumers as early as next year.