Father of the compact fluorescent bulb looks back

Submitted by Charles Frost on Fri, 08/17/2007 - 18:11.

Father of the compact fluorescent bulb looks back


By michael [dot] kanellos [at] cnet [dot] com, News.com
Published on ZDNet News: Aug 16, 2007 11:57:00 AM


Consumers with an eye to conserving energy may be snatching those swirly compact fluorescent bulbs off store shelves now, but 30 years ago they were barely a shade away from crazy.


"I was given a number of reasons why it wouldn't work," said Ed Hammer, a retired General Electric engineer who invented compact fluorescent while working at the company in the 1970s. "I was told it could be a little better than an incandescent bulb, but that was about it."


Instead, increasing energy costs have made Hammer's invention a quickly growing part of the consumer market. Household CFLs operate on 13 to 25 watts of energy, far less than 60- to 100-watt incandescent bulbs, and thus have become a favorite with consumers trying to curb energy costs. The bulbs also last far longer than standard incandescent bulbs. Although the bulbs contain mercury and thus aren't supposed to be thrown away with the regular trash, sales are climbing. Sales could climb further if legislation pending in various jurisdictions banning incandescents passes.


CFLs will face heated competition with light-emitting diodes, but right now the price of LED lights is fairly high.


GE assigned Hammer to work on energy efficient bulbs at its labs in Nela Park, Ohio, during the first
U.S. energy crisis in the mid-'70s. His first invention was a standard-shaped 40-watt fluorescent lamp, called the F-40 Watt Miser, in 1973. To lower the power consumption, Hammer changed the gas used and tweaked various components inside the lamp.


Next came the CFL. Bulbs and fluorescent light, however, are not a natural combination. Fluorescent lights are ordinarily tube-shaped. Curving them into a bulb shape creates reflective losses, i.e. light that shines from one part of the tube gets deflected by a nearby spiral.


Through a lot of trial and error, he came up with a way to space the spirals far enough apart to minimize losses without also losing a bulb-like shape. Many manufacturers have tried different designs, but the shape Hammer coined remains dominant.


Hammer invented the bulb in 1976, he said, and primarily worked alone. (Editor's note: the years reflect the time Hammer says he invented the bulbs, not when GE announced them.) The original prototype is in the Smithsonian.


Although executives at GE liked the idea, they decided not to market it at the time. CFLs would require entirely new manufacturing facilities, which would cost $25 million. "So they decided to shelve it," Hammer said.


The electronics giant contemplated licensing the design. Unfortunately, the design leaked out. Others copied it before GE started a licensing program.


"That's how it became widespread," he said. Still, "it has been a big hit for GE."


Hammer hasn't done badly either. He has published more than 40 papers and was awarded the Edison Medal by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2002.


From: http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595_22-6202996.html

Cool CFL Clip

I really dug this.  Thanks Bill, for a good read.  As alluded to in prior post about sustainability basics, CFLs installation is a great way for us to think a bit more proactively and pragmatically about energy consumption and help make a significant difference given aggregation over time.   We are talking about efficient, elegant, ecological restoration and meaningful, measurable, mitigation of global warming syndrome, people...   Bring it!  


Why are inventors given the moniker "father" of this and that?  Oh, just a prickly aside.  I am still not joining the compact flourescent bandwagon.  Remember leaded gasoline??