Innovation in fluorescent lighting continues to be fueled by product and building regulations, utility rebates and market preference for products that can deliver lower energy and maintenance costs. The rare earth crisis, however, has pressured manufacturers to shift some of their focus from value-added to lower cost solutions.

Product regulations have eliminated the majority of T12 4- and 8-foot linear lamps and magnetic ballasts, while new regulation, taking effect Nov. 14, would require a wide variety of T5, T8 and T12 ballasts to achieve a high standard or face banishment from import or sale within the United States—with some exceptions, such as dimming ballasts.

(T12 ballasts previously listed as exemptions are now covered.) While the majority of high-efficiency electronic ballasts (e.g., NEMA Premium) comply, ballasts most at risk are T12 electronic, outdoor sign and residential ballasts, as well as T8 and T5 programmed-start ballasts lacking a cathode-cutout design.

In recent years, energy-saving linear T8 lamp options have entered the market, such as 23W, 25W, 28W and 30W in addition to high-lumen T8; more recently, energy-saving T5 lamps have come online, offering 25W replacements for 4-foot 28W T5, 21W replacement for 2-foot 24W T5HO, 35W replacement for 3-foot 39W T5HO, and 44–51W replacements for 4-foot T5HO. For maximum efficiency and to futureproof a design against the regulations taking effect November 2014, these lamps should be paired with compliant, high-efficiency electronic ballasts.

Meanwhile, another rulemaking is being considered that would cover additional lamp types such as pin-based compact fluorescents, nonlinear lamps such as circline, and linear lamps with alternate lengths such as 2, 3 and
5 feet. This rulemaking is expected to be announced within the next few years and go into effect in 2017.

Offering a spread of lumen packages and wattages allows designers to tune light output and power to precise load requirements needed to comply with stricter energy codes. Another method that may be more reliable is to select a ballast with an appropriate ballast factor (rating of fraction of lamp-light output emitted when a lamp and ballast operate together as a system). Nonstandard ballast factors, such as 0.50, 0.70 and so on, now offer greater design flexibility. Tuning output and power at the ballast means a standard 32W T8 lamp can be used without risk of maintenance error.

Another dimension of the energy-efficiency trend, energy codes are increasingly mandating lighting controls, requiring lighting systems that can either be turned off or reduced in response to occupancy or daylight levels. This progression has created demand for lamps and ballasts that are friendly to frequent switching and dimming. Lamps that offer good life ratings at switching cycles as frequent as 15 minutes are now available. Ballasts that offer fast starting for safety, good lamp life when used with occupancy sensors and dimming, and at a lower cost are now available and can be networked in analog or digital systems.

For example, programmed-start ballasts, which provide longer lamp life at frequent switching cycles, are now available with parallel lamp operation. This ensures the other operating lamps on the ballast remain lit after one has failed, supporting space appearance, productivity and maintenance.

Now, let’s address the rare earth crisis, which has shifted manufacturer investment and user demand from value-added to basic, lower cost products in some markets. Energy-efficient, high-color-rendering, linear fluorescent lamps use five rare earth phosphors that, for a period of time, were mined almost exclusively in China. To feed the growing appetite for these materials to its domestic industry, China instituted a policy of limiting exports, resulting in a series of dramatic lamp price increases in recent years. Although new sources of supply are being developed outside of China, several key materials will remain at risk for the near future, resulting in cost uncertainty for fluorescent lamps.

The result is a shift in focus by manufacturers to reducing cost both internally and externally to the consumer. One short-term option is to use 700-series (lower color rendering) T8 lamps in applications where color is less important. These lamps were to be eliminated as part of the July lamp regulations, but the major manufacturers were granted an extension to July 14, 2014. As these lamps use 30 percent of the rare earth content as higher color-rendering 800-series lamps, they provide a lower cost. Another sensible option is to use long-life lamps. Extended-life T8 and T5HO options offer up to 55,000 to 60,000 hours of service life. One new product, the Sequoia T8 by Kumho Electric, is rated at 75,000 hours on a programmed-start ballast at three hours per start.

As the light-emitting diode continues its encroachment into applications dominated by fluorescent lighting, it’s clear that fluorescent will not go away quietly.


DILOUIE, L.C., a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at www.zinginc.com.