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Let’s celebrate Britain’s lighting ingenuity!

lighting innovation

Did you know that March 5 – 14 was British Science Week 2021?

On their website, www.britishscienceweek.org, British Science Week is described as ‘a ten-day celebration of the innovation that led the United Kingdom to excel in science and technology’, so we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to celebrate Britain’s achievements in home lighting! For example, the American inventor Thomas Edison usually gets all the credit for dreaming up the light bulb, but did you know that an English inventor called Joseph Swan patented his own incandescent bulb at precisely the same time as Edison and sued Edison for patent infringement? And, bringing things right up to date, have you heard the UK is leading the way in a new form of LED light bulb technology that doesn’t just make the bulbs 10% more efficient but also cheaper to manufacture and buy?

Want to find out more? Stand by to be enlightened!

The genius of Joseph Swan

Sir Joseph Wilson Swan was born in County Durham on 31 October 1828. He was only twenty-two years old when he set out to invent the very first light bulb. It took another ten years before he was able to demonstrate it and nineteen more years before he’d ironed out all the technical problems well enough to be granted a patent (how’s that for perseverance?!)

A year later, in 1880, Joseph Swan’s patented light bulbs were being installed in homes and public places across England, beginning with his own house. Soon afterwards, The Savoy Theatre in London became the first public building in the world to be lit up entirely by electricity. On the first night, the public needed so much reassurance about the new technology that Richard D’Oyly Carte, the Savoy theatre’s builder, had to smash a glowing lightbulb in front of the audience to prove how safe it was!

Swan vs Edison

In 1881, ‘The Swan Electric Light Company’ started commercial production, and soon afterwards, the Royal Navy began to install Swan’s light bulbs on board their ships. However, Swan soon realised that he had some serious competition from across the pond, in the form of US inventor Thomas Edison. Edison had patented his own light bulb in 1879, although his plans for the device were very different. Whereas Swan’s design was low-resistance with a short life span, Edison’s bulb was a high-resistance lamp with a long life that could be used as part of a larger-scale electric lighting complex. Despite these variations, Swan argued that he’d got there first and sued Edison for patent infringement, which the British courts upheld. As a penalty, Edison had to make Swan a partner in his electric company, and the ‘Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company’ (more commonly known as ‘Ediswan’) was born in 1883. It’s also interesting to note that even the US Patent Office decided Edison’s patent was invalid, not because of Swan, but because it also duplicated another American inventor’s work.

General Electric takes over

Ediswan sold two different kinds of lamps – one made with a cellulose filament (which was Swan’s invention and only available in the UK), and the other with a bamboo filament (Edison’s invention, made available outside the UK.) You could argue that was a sneaky move on Thomas Edison’s part because it meant his light bulb became internationally well known, whereas Joseph Swan’s light bulb was kept safely within Britain’s shores. And then, when Thomas Edison became one of the founders of the General Electric company in 1892, GE exploited Swan’s patent so they could legally produce light bulbs with cellulose filaments in the US and across the globe. They kept making those bulbs until 1904 when their own ‘General Electric Metallized’ filaments updated Swan’s invention and took electric lighting to the next level.

As a result, Thomas Edison’s reputation as a lighting pioneer has gone from strength to strength, whereas Joseph Swan’s contribution to light bulb history has largely been forgotten. But Swan didn’t disappear; in fact, his patent for making carbon prints revolutionised the photographic industry.

Introducing graphene: the UK’s cutting-edge light bulb technology

In 2004, two Russian scientists from The University of Manchester produced a ‘miracle material’ called graphene, which – among its many other benefits – makes LED light bulbs more energy-efficient than ever before. As a result of their ground-breaking research, the scientists went on to win the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

What is graphene?

Graphene is a material that’s composed of a single layer of carbon atoms. It is a million times thinner than a human hair and two hundred times stronger than steel. It can be used for a wide range of applications, including rapid charging of electric cars, improved water filtration, and as a coating on the filament of LED light bulbs that dissipates heat and makes the bulbs 10% more energy efficient. This means your light will stay just as bright but at a much lower wattage.

Physicists have known about graphene since the mid-20th century, but Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were the first people to turn it into something that can be used in the physical world.

The UK government is so confident about graphene technology that it has invested £38m in The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute, and first-generation graphene bulbs are already on the market. They’re designed to last 25% longer than other LEDs, and they also run approximately 16% cooler than standard filament LED lamps. Although it is still very early days for this new technology, the UK has its sights set firmly on leading the world!

If you’re interested in finding out more about graphene bulbs, give us a call! We don’t currently have any in stock, but we’d be happy to source them for you, and we might even order some for our shop if customer demand is big enough.

And finally… an LED light that requires no energy at all

Just imagine; one day, it might be possible to run an LED light bulb for absolutely no power at all!

That’s what UK inventor Malcolm Wright thinks, and he’s found a way for LEDs to piggyback off the power supply of other appliances so they can effectively be run free-of-charge. He’s called his invention EEBL, ‘Electrical Energy By-Product Lighting’, and he’s already powering his living room lighting from his TV and his garage lighting from the pump in his garden pond.

The bad news is, according to the Intellectual Property Office website, it looks like Mr Wright’s patent ceased in January 2020, so it might be a while before we see his fantastic idea employed in everyday life. Still, it took Joseph Swan 29 years to bring his light bulb to market, so you never know what the future’s got in store!

While we’re on the subject of stores (!), even though a no-cost LED future is still a distance away, don’t forget that your friends at Oliver Lamps are here right now for all your home and business lighting needs, and much more besides. If the government’s ‘easing lockdown’ arrangements go to plan, our fabulous shop will be reopening very soon. Until then (and even afterwards!), our expert team is always here to help. Just give us a call on 01328 855028 , email [email protected], or use the contact form on our website.

Stay safe, and we’ll see you again very soon!

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