CHAMPAIGN — Energy-conscious consumers who've made the switch to fluorescent replacement bulbs may be swapping them out for a more efficient lighting system in a few years.
By 2015, half of all new light fixtures sold in the United States will be based on LED technology, developed by UI scientist Nick Holonyak Jr., says M. George Craford, a fellow at the Phillips Lumileds Lighting Co. And within the next two decades, LEDs will dominate the lighting industry, Craford said Wednesday at a UI symposium.
Scientists from around the world gathered at the I Hotel to pay tribute to Holonyak and his invention of the visible light-emitting diode, or LED, in 1962. The two-day symposium, "LED: 50 Years," celebrated the contributions Holonyak and others made to developing the LED over the last 50 years.
Craford said the cost of LED fixtures is dropping, quality is improving, and more and more people are starting to use them.
"It is clearly a matter of time," Craford said.
Governments around the world are speeding up the change by banning incandescent lights, though the United States has been slower to act, he said.
LED lights can last for 10 years, rather than two or less for other types of lighting, he said.
LEDs are now used mostly in replacement bulbs, but prices are still relatively high for homeowners who may not want to pay $10 or $15 to replace a 50-cent bulb, he said.
For hotels and other commercial customers with hundreds of fixtures, however, it's often worth the investment in energy savings and the convenience of not having to replace bulbs frequently, Craford said.
The replacement-bulb industry will be "transient," Craford said, because companies are starting to produce more lighting systems designed for long-lasting LEDs. Edison sockets or fluorescent fixtures aren't the best way to use LEDs, he said.
The LED itself doesn't burn out, but the electrical capacitors in the drivers do, and silicon doesn't perform well at hot temperatures, Craford said.
"The cost is coming down pretty rapidly," he said.
Holonyak said LED technology will have countless unforeseen uses, in the medical field and others.
UI President Bob Easter called the symposium "a special moment in the history of the University of Illinois."
Gov. Patrick Quinn was on hand with a proclamation declaring Wednesday as Nick Holonyak Jr. Day and honoring the LED as a longer-lasting, more efficient, more durable and mercury-free source of light.
Quinn said Holonyak invented a technology that changed the world. The governor's mansion, he noted, has changed to all-LED technology.
"We are in the presence of greatness today," he said.
Quinn praised Holonyak's commitment to hard work, teamwork, and building on the ideas of others as the pathway to innovation, noting that he had acquired 40 patents in his career.
"Nick Holonyak understands the importance of education, the importance of research. If students are well-educated, they can create things we never dreamed of," he said, paraphrasing Holonyak.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson also presented Holonyak with a proclamation from the Illinois House of Representatives.
Holonyak thanked Quinn and others in attendance, though he said he was more accustomed to the "give and take" conversations in his department. In fact, his voice popped up from the audience several times during question-and-answer sessions.
The most important part of the symposium, Holonyak said, was to "be with all of you ... to see what we've been able to do, all of us."