LEDing the Way

Lighting Science Group is pioneering solid state lighting with its environmental advantages in a movement to replace incandescent lighting

By Maria Sonnenberg

With a background in physics and electronics, Chief Technology Officer Fred Maxik heads innovation at the company
Credit Maria Sonnenberg

Every year in the spring and summer, driven by an instinct that will not be denied, sea turtles lumber upon the sands of the Space Coast of Florida, not far from Kennedy Space Center. Here, in a center of cutting-edge technology, they perform a ritual as old as time. They are here to lay thousands of eggs.

But only about one in a thousand of the hatchlings make it to adulthood. Disoriented by the bright lights of mushrooming beach towns, the babies head not to the ocean but to busy parking lots and roads, where they fall prey to predators and cars. Environmentalists have tried for years to dim beach lights and give the hatchlings a chance. This year, Lighting Science Group Corporation has provided an answer.

About a mile from the Atlantic Ocean, in the Florida beach town of Satellite Beach, Lighting Science created the “turtle light.” The company, a provider of energy efficient and environmentally responsible lighting solutions, developed an amber light emitting diode (LED) light certified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for use in sea turtle habitat areas.

It has been nicknamed the “turtle light” because, unlike incandescent bulbs with yellow filters, the amber color chosen for Lighting Science’s R20 LED floodlight does not attract turtle hatchlings on their way out to sea. This means the babies will follow the natural light of the moon over the sea. The lights made their commercial debut this year at the Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront in Indialantic, Florida.

But while the turtle lights made nice press for Lighting Science, they comprise only a small piece of the company’s pie. “It’s a nice niche market, but currently 85 percent of our business is commercial,” says Fred Maxik, Lighting Science director and chief technology officer. The lights may be a niche market, but they indicate the creativity found in the small company, which is leading a trend to replace conventional incandescent light bulbs with LED lights.

While incandescent bulbs heat a filament to generate light, LEDs use silicon semiconductor chips in a concept known as electroluminescence. Put simply, diodes emit light when electricity is applied to them. Known as solid state lighting, this was originally developed in the early 1960s and used by companies like Hewlett Packard and Texas Instruments in handheld calculator displays. They have gone on to see use in multitudes of everyday electronic devices from computers to cameras and watches.

Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Lighting Science is the first company to market high-output, dimmable, standard Edison-base white LED light bulbs. Energy efficient, long-lived, reliable, and resistant to shock and vibration, these bulbs have distinct advantages over other forms of lighting. The firm’s product portfolio consists of 30 different items, from globe bulbs to strip lighting, architectural lighting, and fixtures for parking garages and warehouses.

Lighting Science moved its research facilities to east Central Florida six months ago, as Maxik brought his research staff to Satellite Beach, fleeing the hectic—and expensive—pace of South Florida. “The cost of doing business here is less, and it’s a good area for engineering resources,” he explains. Here, Maxik has his pick of engineering talent from nearby NASA and from high tech pools like Harris Corporation and Northrop Grumman.

LED lights are configured as standard light bulbs in many shapes and sizes
Courtesy Lighting Science

After getting a degree in physics, Maxik began his career with Sansui Electronics in Tokyo, Japan, where he became vice president of product development. In 1990, he was named vice president of product development for Onkyo Electronics in Osaka, Japan. Three years later, Maxik formed his own product development consulting firm, followed in 2002 with an environmental products company, which developed the intellectual property that eventually became the core for Lighting Science.

A Green Outlook
Not far from Lighting Science’s R&D building, the new Cocoa Beach facility for Sunrise Bank provides an example of the appetite for the new LED lighting technology. In this “green” bank, one of the most unusual bank facilities in the United States, designer Susan Perers of American Business Interiors integrated the latest environmentally friendly technology, including LED lights.

“There’s going to be a return on your investment with LED lighting,” says Perers. “You’re also keeping things from the landfill and have no volatile organic compounds that could be detrimental to the health of your employees.” LED bulbs and fixtures contain no mercury or other hazardous substances found in fluorescent and compact fluorescent products. “It’s very green technology,” says Maxik. “No hazardous waste is created. In fact, 90-odd percent is recyclable.” Another benefit of Lighting Science products is their durability. If used for 12 hours a day, a typical Lighting Science light bulb has a lifespan of 10 years.

The technology also makes for a very energy-efficient product. “Incandescent bulbs generate 10 to 15 lumens for every watt they burn,” Maxik states. “Compare that to compact fluorescents, which generate 40 lumens for every watt. Then compare that to LEDs, which generate 50 to 70 lumens for every watt.”

Research Engineer Nick Phensiriohand conducts R&D on lighting
Credit Maria Sonnenberg

High-brightness LEDs have stringent design constraints on operating temperatures and voltage. Lighting Science’s Optimized Digital Lighting (ODL) Technology ensures these constraints are met in everyday use. ODL enables LEDs to operate the highest lighting levels over the longest life, delivering these benefits in standard bulb shapes and sizes that do not require special ballasts or sockets. ODL technology depends on more than 25 issued and pending patents in power management, thermal management, manufacturing processes, miniaturized circuit design, aesthetic design, and other areas. Recent Lighting Science innovations even include a candelabra base flame tip bulb that maintains the classic graceful shape to its miniaturized power supply concealed at the base of the bulb.

Lean and Mean
To minimize in-plant investment and equipment and allow Lighting Science Group to focus on research and development, Lighting Science does not operate a manufacturing facility, instead outsourcing the manufacture of ODL products. The company currently partners with a small number of contract manufacturers to manufacture their products at plants throughout the world.

The work of Research Engineer Nick Phensiriohand epitomizes the engineering activities at Lighting Science under this arrangement. Engineers specialize in areas such as electrical design, mechanical design, and thermal management and perform a broad array of tasks. After designing a new product using CAD, Phensiriohand works with component vendors to develop a bill of materials, assists in building prototypes, tests prototypes, develops instructions for manufacturing, interfaces with manufacturing on the first production build, and provides documentation for certification by agencies such as U.L.

The company recently made the transition from a development stage company to one focused on sales and growth, with a long-term business strategy that includes penetration of the general lighting market. “Advances in LED technology, coupled with declining costs, continue to make LED lighting more economically and environmentally attractive,” says Ron Lusk, chairman and CEO.

The company sells its products through lighting and electrical distributors; parking garage operators; distributors in the spa, hospitality and leisure sectors; retailers of energy efficient products; traditional commercial and retail distribution channels; and on a direct basis through the company website.

Because of their high energy use for lighting, parking lots make an ideal application for LED lights
Courtesy Lighting Science

The year 2006 saw an increase in new orders, a result of aggressive efforts to establish additional distribution relationships, including one with OptiLD Holdings for distribution of the company’s ODL lowbay lighting fixtures in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.

One of Lighting Science’s more unusual products, its LED votive candles formed the focus of a 2006 agreement with Universal Companies. Universal is making the LED votive candles available to its more than 45,000 customers in the spa industry in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

This past August, Lighting Science announced a multi-year, multi-million dollar product development and marketing arrangement with Epilight Holdings. Under the terms of the agreement, Epilight will purchase a minimum of two million dollars’ worth of Lighting Science’s LED lighting products and technical support services. Epilight will market the products in Asia and Europe.

AGI In-Store, a leading producer of point-of-purchase displays, partnered with Lighting Science to develop LED fixtures for AGI’s in-store display units. These fixtures will provide AGI with cost savings and extend display life by employing Lighting Science’s efficient and low-heat lighting solutions.

ABM Industries announced a joint initiative with Lighting Science for a feasibility assessment with Ampco, which manages of 1,800 parking facilities in the United States. As part of an effort to encourage energy efficiency, Ampco, one of the largest parking facility managers in North America, selected Lighting Science for the installation of LED lighting.

More Applications Coming
Another interesting application is the use of LED lights in the marine and offshore market. Earlier this year, Lighting Science entered into an agreement with Callenberg Engineering, a firm in Miami, Florida that specializes in cruise and commercial vessels, to jointly develop LED fixtures that can withstand the harsh and challenging environment of life at sea.

Typical LED light fixture used in an open application such as a parking lot
Courtesy Lighting Science

Amid all this activity, Raleigh, North Carolina, has become Lighting Science’s poster city. This center of the “LED City” initiative is a living laboratory that explores the economic, environmental, and usage benefits of LED lighting. To focus on validating the cost savings and technology capabilities of LEDs, Raleigh exchanged the dull orange lights at the city’s municipal building parking deck for bright white LED fixtures. Residents felt safer, according a survey by Mindwave Research, which reported that the number of respondents who perceived the garage as “very safe” increased by 76 percent after the garage went LED. City officials expect the initiative to serve as a model for other cities considering the implementation of energy-efficient infrastructures.

To support its corporate and marketing strategy, Lighting Science this spring formed an advisory board of leading industry experts, which includes Nora Mead Brownell, former commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Mike Gordon, an energy economist who has created pioneering energy market opportunities for more than a quarter of a century. “It is my belief that LED lights are the future for commercial, industrial, and eventually residential lighting,” says Brownell. “As yet, no one company has established a dominant market position, but I believe Lighting Science is poised to do so.”

Lighting Science will next look at hospital-related applications, where LEDs can provide therapeutic lighting, as well as lights that tap unto the circadian rhythm of plants, insects, and fish. “As time goes on, we’re going to see more lighting for niche applications,” Maxik predicts. “2008 and 2009 will be explosive years.”

Maria Sonnenberg is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Florida

For more information on Lighting Science Group, visit www.lsgc.com

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