Field-induced polymer electroluminescent lighting.
Ken Bennett Field-induced polymer electroluminescent lighting.

In the last 10 years, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting has dramatically transformed the field of lighting design. Like its predecessor fluorescent lighting, LED technology has been successful largely because of its compelling energy-saving benefits over incandescent fixtures. Yet LEDs and fluorescents alike suffer from color challenges, as anyone who spends much time in a work environment largely illuminated by these types of lights will know.

Enter FIPEL technology—short for field-induced polymer electroluminescence. This novel technology is made from multilayered plastic sheets that incorporate electroluminescent multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWNTs). These nanomaterials illuminate when stimulated, emitting a similar color temperature as sunlight. "People often complain that fluorescent lights bother their eyes, and the hum from the fluorescent tubes irritates anyone sitting at a desk underneath them," said David Carroll, the principal investigator of FIPEL research at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “The new lights we have created can cure both of those problems and more.”

FIPEL lighting has the same energy efficiency as LEDs, which is roughly twice that of fluorescent lighting. Moreover, the molded polymer matrix may be manufactured in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Like LEDs, FIPEL technology endures—one of Carroll's prototypes is still operating after 10 years.

Could FIPELs be the next game-changer in lighting? The marketplace may soon have an answer to this question. Wake Forest is currently collaborating with a manufacturer to produce the technology, and plans to offer commercial fixtures to the public next year.

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.