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Lighting up a New Century

From Plasma Physics to Lighting Technology

Finding new ways to light lamps is a challenge whose stakes are scientific, technological, economic and environmental. Lighting technology is the focus of a European network, which brings fundamental research together with industrial partners.

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Electric lighting has provoked a revolution of seismic proportions in the daily life of humans. It is scarcely possible to imagine developed areas doing without it, and its use will only continue to increase (see "To know more"). The market for lighting is huge. Nonetheless lighting with electricity is not without its negative effects on the environment including visual pollution and the release of greenhouse gases in the production of the needed electricity. These problems are likely to increase since OECD prognoses call for world demand for electric lighting to increase by three in the next ten years.

An improvement in the quality of light sources could go a long way toward alleviating the side effects of increased consumption of lighting. Most important is to increase the efficiency of light sources as calculated by the luminous flux (measured in lumens) per watt of electricity used. For example, an improvement of 2% in the efficiency of urban lighting would reduce by six to seven million tons the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is in turn the equivalent of 1% of the reduction called for the Kyoto Accords. Another goal is to improve the colour rendering of the light sources, that is, to generate artificial light which gives true colours to the lit world.

Increases in lighting efficiency have been rare in the last 30 years, proof that finding more efficient lighting means is not likely to be easy. At the Center for Applied Plasma Physics in Toulouse (CPAT)1, the research group for "intense sources of photons" is active in this pursuit. For several years the group has been studying the physics of electrical discharge and has focused on the notion of a global lighting system, that is, one including both light source and electrical supply, for both indoor and outdoor use. It has also been working on water purification and on optical pumping for the Megajoule Laser under construction near Bordeaux. Recently the group devised a lamp which changes colour with variations in electrical supply - of possible use in advertising lighting.

Research projects in these areas are carried out in collaboration with various academic and industrial partners. The CPAT team in particular is chairing the European network COST*-529 and its programme for "Efficient Lighting for the 21st Century"2. Established in 2001, this network's aim is to coordinate and rationalise research in the area of lighting, and it now comprises 19 European countries and some sixty institutions (public research laboratories, industrial groups like Phillips, Osram, or General Electric, and a number of small and mid-sized enterprises). The total budget for the network is eight million euros for five years.

This network has also brought the CPAT group into contact with other research actors and has seen the group join several European collaborative projects,such as the installation of several dozen street lights in Albi, France as part of the Fifth Framework Programme project, Nume-LiTe3. Finally, in conjunction with the Sixth FP, the CPAT team has presented several proposals for research projects leading to an "Integrated Project"* on the subject of efficient and intelligent lighting.




Georges Zissis
Centre de physique des plasmas et de leurs applications de Toulouse

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