Wake Forest University physics professor David Carroll works with graduate student Greg Smith on new FIPEL lighting technology. (Photo : Wake Forest University)
They hope to begin manufacturing the new bulbs in 2013.
The new bulbs are made of moldable plastic that emits white light when a current is passed through it. The plastic can be formed into many shapes, won't shatter like glass, and doesn't need to be filled with inert gas or a filament.
The color is more similar to sunlight, as well. Many people complain about compact fluorescent bulbs, which usually gives off a bluish light that can look sad or dreary to human eyes. The new bulbs can be matched to any light wavelength, including natural sunlight.
Fluorescent bulbs also flicker, turning on and off so quickly that the human eye can't consciously distinguish the change in light output. But many people report headaches caused by the rapid changes, and some people can detect a hum, as the bulbs switches on and off continuously.
Compact fluorescents have replaced warmer incandescent bulbs because they are more energy efficient.
A traditional incandescent light bulb gives off 95 percent of its energy as heat, and only 5 percent as light, which is why they get extremely hot when turned on. A compact fluorescent bulb emits 30 to 40 percent of its energy as heat, and the rest as light, allowing them to give off the same amount of light but use less energy.
The new plastic bulbs emit nearly pure light, with almost no heat emissions, making them much more energy efficient than even compact fluorescent bulbs.
Fluorescent bulbs are also difficult to dispose of, since they contain mercury vapor, a hazardous chemical.
"What we've found is a way of creating light rather than heat," said Dr. David Carroll of Wake Forest University, one of the inventors of the new bulbs.
"Our devices contain no mercury, they contain no caustic chemicals and they don't break as they are not made of glass," he said.
No word yet on the exact price of the bulbs, but they are said to be "cheap."