Early adopters of LED lighting will remember 50,000 hour or even 100,000 hour lifetime ratings printed on the box. But during a recent trip to the hardware store the longest advertised lifetime I found was 25,000 hours. Others claimed only 7,500 or 15,000 hours. And yes, these are brand-name bulbs from Cree and GE.
So, what happened to those 100,000 hour residential LED bulbs? Were the initial estimates just over-optimistic? Was it all marketing hype? Or, did we not know enough about LED aging to predict the true useful life of a bulb?
I put these questions to the test. Join me after the break for some background on the light bulb cartel from the days of incandescent bulbs (not a joke, a cartel controlled the life of your bulbs), and for the destruction of some modern LED bulbs to see why the lifetimes are clocking in a lot lower than the original wave of LED replacements.
Occasionally you run across a product that you just know is simply too good to be true. You might not know why, but you’ve got a hunch that what the bombastic phrasing on the package is telling you just doesn’t quite align with reality. That’s the feeling I got recently when I spotted the “LED intellibulb Battery Backup” bulb by Feit Electric. For around $12 USD at Home Depot, the box promises the purchaser will “Never be in the dark again”, and that the bulb will continue to work normally for up to 3.5 hours when the power is out. If I could repurpose that to make a tiny UPS for a microcontroller project of my own, it could be even more useful.
Now an LED light bulb with a battery in the base isn’t exactly rocket science, we can understand the product conceptually at a glance. But as they say, the devil is in the details. The box claims the bulb consumes 8.5 watts, but a battery with enough capacity to run such a load for 3.5 hours would be far too large to fit inside of a light bulb. Obviously there’s more to the story.
On the side of the box, in the smallest font used on the whole package, we get our clue. The bulb drops down to 200 lumens when in battery backup mode, or roughly as bright as a cheap LED flashlight. Now things are starting to come together. Without even opening the device, we can be fairly sure it will contain two separate arrays of LEDs: one low set for battery, and a brighter set to run when the bulb has AC power.
Still, I tend to be of the opinion that anything less than $20 or so is worth cracking open to see what makes it tick. Even if the product itself is underwhelming, there’s a chance the internal components could be useful or interesting. With that in mind, let’s see what’s inside a battery backup light bulb, and what we might be able to do with it.
If you’ve gone down the lighting isle of a store recently, you’ve no doubt noticed we are firmly in the age of the LED light bulb. Incandescent bulbs are kept in small stock for those who still have the odd-ball use case, there’s usually a handful of CFL bulbs for those who don’t mind filling their house with explosive vials of hot mercury, but mostly its all LED now. Which is as it should be: LED lighting is clearly the superior choice in terms of energy efficiency, lifetime, and environmental impact.
He notes that most of the LEDs seem to fail in the same way, flickering after they are switched on until they just stop lighting up entirely. This hints at an overheating issue, and [Kerry] opines that aesthetic and cost considerations have pushed heat dissipation to the back burner in terms of design. It also doesn’t help that many of these bulbs are sitting in insulated recessed fixtures in the ceiling, making it even harder to keep them cool.
Once he separates the actual LEDs from the driver circuitry, he is able to determine that the emitters themselves still work fine. Rather than toss the whole thing in the trash, it’s possible to reuse the LEDs with a new power source, which is quickly demonstrated by showing off a shop light he built from “dead” LED light bulbs.
It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when electronics were expensive. [Adrian Black] found some 9W (60W equivalent) LED light bulbs at the Dollar Tree (a U.S. store where everything costs a dollar). Naturally, they cost a dollar, and he wanted to see what was inside of them. You can see the resulting video, below.
Apparently where [Adrian] lives there is a subsidy paid to retailers for selling LED lighting, so you may not be able to get the same bulbs at that price. Still, the price of these bulbs has dropped like a rock over the last few years.