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Photo of NanoLeaf light bulb.
Courtesy of NanoLeaf

Lighting a Revolution

Three grads have developed an LED that uses a fraction of the electricity of other light bulbs

Not long ago, if you were looking for a new light bulb for your home, your choice was limited to a small selection of energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs.

But recent advances in lighting technology have stocked store shelves with new types of bulbs that use a fraction of the electricity of the old ones. It’s a trend that three University of Toronto alumni are hoping to take even further with a light bulb that they say is among the most energy-efficient in the world.

The NanoLeaf is a new type of light-emitting diode (LED) developed by Christian Yan (BASc 2006), Tom Rodinger (PhD 2007) and Gimmy Chu (BASc 2006). The team’s innovative design uses small LEDs on a folded circuit-board to produce an environmentally friendly and funky-looking light bulb. NanoLeaf plugs into a standard light fixture. It gives off warm light in all directions like an old-fashioned bulb. It turns on right away, and it will last for about 20 years. But it uses just 12 watts of electricity to produce light equivalent to that of an incandescent 100-watt bulb.

NanoLeaf is even more efficient than other LEDs, says Chu, because of its unique bulb and circuit design. It achieves 133 lumens-per-watt, which is a significant improvement over other LEDs on the market (although Philips recently announced a prototype bulb that gets as much as 200 lumens-per-watt).

Chu says NanoLeaf aims to sell the 12-watt bulb for $45 – the same price it offered backers of the company’s KickStarter campaign, which earlier this year raised more than $270,000 for the company. Chu notes that while the NanoLeaf bulb is costly compared to traditional light bulbs, it uses a lot less energy and lasts many times longer than other light bulbs. This means it will save consumers money in the long run – $350 over its lifespan compared to an incandescent bulb, and $50 compared to a compact fluorescent.

The company is working with distributors in North America, the Caribbean and Asia to make the product available this fall. Chu says the greatest interest is coming from countries where electricity is most costly. In the meantime, NanoLeaf is focusing on delivering the first batch of bulbs to its Kick-Starter backers.

NanoLeaf’s team of “passionate tree huggers” met while working on U of T’s solar car in 2005. Their interest in developing sustainable products resulted in a partnership that’s spanned years and continents and countless hours of work. The company debuted as “NanoLight” in February, but the partners later changed its name to more accurately reflect its mission and avoid potential legal issues with a pre-existing company.

“I know the NanoLeaf looks a little strange, but it catches people’s attention,” says Yan. “Hopefully people will begin to think more about saving energy and how this in turn will help bring their electricity bills down and lead to a greener future for the world.”

Watch a video on NanoLeaf, the world’s most energy efficient light bulb.

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