By now you’ve probably heard about some of the big changes happening to general service fluorescent lamps (GSFLs). Recently the DOE has pushed for stricter standards on GSFLs established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Although certain types of T12 lamps will start disappearing from shelves for their inefficient ways come July 14th they’re not the only consumption culprits. Some lower color rendering 4 ft. T8 lamps were also included within the new standards.
See, GSFLs require certain rare earth materials (phosphorus is a one example) coated inside the lamp to turn UV into visible light. Coating with phosphorus can increase efficacy, while dramatically improving color quality and lumen maintenance (you know, just two huge factors when choosing your lamps). So for lamp manufacturers, phosphorus is enormously important in generating efficient products.
In order to meet these new standards, their 700 series GSFLs need to be replaced with more energy efficient 800 series T8’s which use a substantially higher amount (70 %!) of rare earth materials.
Phosphorus is a rare earth material that isn’t so easy to harvest. In fact, 97% of the world-wide supply of rare earth materials is controlled by China. Realizing the advantages of being on top, Chinese industrial policy now includes significantly reduced production quotas for rare earth materials. These quotas have hit the U.S. markets hard; in 2011 prices for terbium and europium, two other rare earth materials, increased at an annual rate of more than 4-500%.
So now GE, Philips and Osram are faced with a huge dilemma: make more efficient lamps with less available resources. Thus the big three pleaded their cases to the DOE citing their inability to secure sufficient quantities of the required materials subjecting them to serious hardship, gross inequity and an unfair distribution of burdens. It also doesn’t help that when the final ruling took place in 2009, the DOE was way off on their predictions on supplies of rare earth elements. You can’t really blame them though; the lighting industry isn’t the only players in the rare earth/efficiency game (televisions, computers, motors, etc.).
With their hands tied, the DOE allowed a two year extension to the 700 series T8 GSFLs (4 ft. medium bipin, 2ft. U-shaped, and 8 ft. Slimline and High Output) until July 14th 2014. Now you may be asking: Does this mean they get a pass in efficiency standards? They wouldn’t dream of it—these lamps will still be subject to current standards, and since they don’t use nearly as much phosphorus as the 800 series, the extension can significantly decrease their immediate need for the materials, thus allowing a two year relief period in rare earth availability.
Will two years really make that big of a difference? At Aetna, we’re staying optimistic. Think of cell phones and where they were two years ago—anything is possible with a little research, time, and devotion.
For more information on the extension and to read the application from GE, Philips and Osram, please visit: http://www.oha.doe.gov/cases/ee/EXC-12-0001thru03.pdf
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