Skip to main content
The electron stimulated luminescence (ESL) lightbulb is a serious contender to replace incandescent bulbs in coming years. Our writer tests the R-30 model to see what the fuss is all about.


esl light bulbJoe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

Still using incandescent lightbulbs? Don't get too used to them. According to Earth 911, those old-fashioned, energy-zapping lightbulbs will be phased out by 2014 as a result of the CLEAN Energy Act. Their elimination will save billions in energy costs.

I, for one, am dreading the day when incandescent bulbs are no longer sold in the U.S. In fact, I'm thinking about buying a closet full of them. Why? Well, currently the most feasible alternatives to "regular" lightbulbs are compact flourescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and light-emitting diode lightbulbs (LEDs). The thought of having to light my home with CFLs and LEDs for the rest of my days (and nights) makes me shudder.

In late 2010, good news surfaced for me and for others with the same mindset. Vu1 Coporation (pronounced "view one"), a New York City-based company, is shipping its first electron stimulated luminescence -- or ESL -- lightbulbs to market in early 2011. With this new type of energy-saving bulb, electrons are fired at a phosphor coating at the front of the bulb, causing it to glow brightly. If all goes according to plan, ESL bulbs will replace incandescent bulbs in the years ahead.

But ESL bulbs sound too good to be true: The company claims that the light emitted by an ESL bulb is very similar to that of a traditional incandescent bulb (poor light quality is the biggest drawback of CFLs and LEDs). According to Vu1 director Bill Smith, ESLs are super-efficient at conserving energy and will last for at least 10,000 hours. Unlike CFLs, ESL bulbs are made without mercury, a substance that is toxic enough to warrant all sorts of EPA cautions about fluorescent bulb breakage (evacuate the room first!) and bulb disposal (treat it as hazardous waste!).

esl light bulbThe ESL bulb glows with a warm, incandescent-like light. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

Vu1 recently sent me its R-30 type lightbulb -- the type used in recessed lighting fixtures -- to evaluate. Although still a test unit, the bulb was close to being a final product; the one I tried is slightly longer than the final version.

The bulb had its pros and its cons. On the bright side, the light was very much like an incandescent (as promised), with the warmth I miss in whiter bulbs. There was none of the annoying vibration (or "flicker") that I sometimes sense with fluorescent lights. And unlike many fluorescents, the bulb was fully dimmable.

And then there were the drawbacks. The bulb was promoted as "instant-on," but it had a slight delay before reaching full illumination. And even in its final incarnation, the bulb is longer and heavier that equivalent R-30 type bulbs. This means that it may protrude from some fixtures. In track-lighting fixtures, its weight may cause the bulb to "lean" and rest against the baffle.

Furthermore, the base of the lightbulb is quite large: about 2 1/4 inches in diameter versus 1 3/4 inches for a typical CFL bulb made for recessed fixtures. The larger ESL bulb base does not fit in all older fixtures (including mine, where bulb height adjustment clips get in the way). They do, however, fit in newer vintage cans -- the kind in which bulb height adjustment is done with a wingnut. If your fixtures are older, check to be sure the Vu1 bulbs will fit before purchasing them.

As for cost, the ESL bulbs is less expensive ($20) than an equivalent LED bulb ($75) but twice as much as an equivalent R-30 CFL bulb ($10).

esl light bulbThe ESL bulb is significantly longer and heavier than incandescent and CFL bulbs. In addition, the large diameter base may preclude its use in some fixtures. Photo: Joe Provey, Home & Garden Editorial Services

Want to test out an ESL for yourself? The R-30 ESL lightbulb can be ordered from the company's website. Smith says they will be available at retail outlets in the near future. Even better, the A-19 ESL bulb -- a direct replacement for the ubiquitous Edison style incandescent bulb -- will be available by mid-year, according to Smith.

So do you think ESL light bulbs will be the light of future? And what are your thoughts on CFL and LED bulbs? Let us know in the comments below!


  • bpowers

    I’ve been to Vu1’s website many times and have always wondered about the following detail “Instant on (at full brightness)”. I concluded that the bulb is instant on when connected to a standard switch but might take a little longer when connected to a dimmer. Did you test the bulb using a standard switch and if so how long did it take to get full brightness? (a fraction of a second, 1 second, 2 seconds, etc.) Thank you in advance - bpowers

    Reply
  • Ann

    I'm as frugal as the next guy - Http://www.couponcodesdiscounts.info - but I hate these lightbulbs!


  • James

    I think this shows real promise, especially if they can reduce the size of the base a bit. I am not very impressed with CFLs and I hate even having to consider the mercury issue, both from a broken bulb and accumulating in our landfills. To be honest, I haven't bought an LED because they're too expensive. I've also read that although they last a lot longer than any other bulbs, their light quality declines relatively quickly even though the bulb doesn't burn out. It weakens and becomes bluish in color, a phenomena referred to as droop. That would be bad enough with a single bulb, but if you have more than one bulb in a fixture or, say, running along a part of the kitchen and you have to change a bulb, then you end up with different color lights. LEDs can also be quite heavy.

    These ESL bulbs are half the price of an LED so I'm willing to pay a little more for a high quality bulb that isn't a CFL. LEDs are still just too darn expensive. ESL is fully dimmable and has the light quality of the good old fashion incandescent. I like that. I've researched these bulbs and they claim that they are actually the most energy efficient of any bulb on the market. They don't have quite as many lumens per watt as an LED, but they have a superior Power Factor, which will appeal to power companies because the higher the power factor in a bulb, the less energy waste there is from the power company's end.

    These sound good. I'm looking forward to trying them.

    Reply
  • lionel00163

    Tried the "New" type of bulbs in my house and the ones that "will last for years" and cost a mint only lasted a month. The distribution system for our utility is so old and has so many spikes it killed them in a short period of time. So I guess I'm filling my closet with the "old" style which lasts for years here.

    Reply
  • Pat Mann

    A friend and I have both had the same experience with CFL's: They emitted an odor of burning plastic and burst into flames; fortunately I was tracking down the odor and came into that room to see the CFL flame up. Only harm done was a damaged lamp shade, but what about the mercury in the air? An we are encouraged to buy this product. The folks pushing these products certainly are not concerned about our safety and well being.

    Reply
  • michael

    I'll believe it when I see it !

    Reply
  • Ann

    These are going Http://www.lightingsecrets.com to be great for the environment.


  • taugrp

    The CFL's give me a migraine .... and how do you get rid of them?

    Reply
  • steve

    Most big box stores, like the ones you buy CFL's from, have a box for recycling them. Lowe's and Depot in Ohio anyways.


  • mickey glick

    CFLs Throw the damned things in the trash. It's too late to save the Earth.


  • paulie


    Send a busted cfl bulb to a congressman and then see how they react to forcing people to use this contaminating crap.

    Reply
  • bob

    What about my easy-bake-oven?

    Reply
  • TED

    Umm, Isn't that how fluorescent bulbs work now? Electo stimulated? Stimulates phosphors coating the inside of the glass, etc. Electrons "stimulate" and cause fluorosence. Geez, that's not new, but the packaging and marketing are. We're about to pay big bucks for repackaged technology.

    Reply
  • sturho

    Well, you can get cfl's that are a bit warmer in colour. In general, you usually have to go to a bit
    higher wattage i.e., 75 instead of 60 watts, to get enough light. Reflector type cfl's do take longer to brighten up. I have not seen or tried these new type lamps. The cost of cfl's is high enough and
    a lot of them do not last as long as advertised. I think that none that we have been using have come anywhere near their so-called life span. I think that our electric bill seems to have gone down just a bit with the cfl's. I will be trying to stock up on the R-30 incandescents soon.

    Reply
  • LST

    I've had a CFL bulb for a while and have no complaints about it. I've wanted to give an LED a try, but not at those outrageous prices. But there is a somewhat local company who makes them, and their prices are more reasonable, so I may give it a try. As for the Vu1 or whatever, it sounds okay, as long as their prices are fair and comparable to regular old fashioned bulbs which remains to be seen. But it does sound to me like the very same concept a CFL bulb is based on, so they're probably no better.

    Reply
  • JOHN FISHER

    THE NEW LIGHT BULBS DONT WORK WELL IN ALL POSITIONS I ALSO TESTED THE LIGHT OUTPUT WITH A PROFESSIONAL LIGHT METER A FLUORESCANT FLOOD LIGHT BULB RATED AT THE OUTPUT OF A 100 WATT INCANDESCANT, DID NOT GIVE AS MUCH LIGHT AS A REGULAR 65 WATT INCANDESCANT FLOOD LAMP

    Reply
  • mickey glick

    Correct me if I'm wrong. Firing an electron beam at a target produces x-rays. Right?

    Reply
  • MIKE

    mickey: This system is the same used n the old TV's picture tube, electrons fired at the face of the screen. We had them for th last 60 or so years and the X-ras did not harm anyone.


  • STEVE

    STOCK UP ON THE OLD ONES--NOBODY IS GONNA TELL ME WHAT KIND OF LIGHT BULB TO USE-------OH YEA WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO GLOBAL WARMING----THE LIBRTARDS SHOULD LOVE THIS ONE

    Reply
  • Rosemary

    It will be years before they are able to come up with kitchen bulbs to replace incandenscents. When I'm driving at night, I hate to see those bluish light bulbs in cars as they don't seem to give off as much light.

    Reply
  • 30 Comments / 2 Pages
Advertisement

Follow Us

  • No features currently available.

  • More Hot Topics The Daily Fix  •  DIY Warrior  •  Home Ec  •  Handmade
    DIY Disaster Doctor  •  In the Workshop  •  Product Picks

    Home Improvement Videos