MIT: New Incandescent Light Bulbs Are More Efficient Than LEDs


By Jeffrey A. Tucker

Researchers at the MIT are publicizing that they have fixed the incandescent lightbulb with a brilliant improvement. They have wrapped the interior filament in a crystal glass that both bounces light and contains heat. It recycles energy in a way that addresses the main complaint against Edison’s bulb: It burns far too much energy for the light that it produces.

Why is this interesting? About a decade ago, governments around the world developed a fetish for banning incandescents and replacing them with expensive LED technology and florescent bulbs. It happened in Europe first but eventually came to the United States. The last American factory to produce them closed in 2010, and they are ever harder to find in even the big-box hardware stores. (As with all such bans, there are exceptions for elites who desire specialty bulbs.)

The change has been seriously annoying for many consumers. It has even given rise to hoarding and gray markets (in Germany, such bulbs were repackaged as “heat balls”). It has produced something of a political backlash, too.

Why should governments be in the position of deciding what technologies can and cannot be used, as if consumers are too stupid to make such decisions for themselves? Who is to decide what is efficient, and what the proper trade off should be between the energy expended and the light produced?

Maybe some people don’t mind the “inefficiency” of incandescent bulbs relative to the warm and wonderful light they produce. Entrepreneurs need to be able to discern and serve their needs.

The bans has given rise to vast debate about which bulb is best and what kind of light technology governments should and should not permit. But these are really the wrong questions. The real issue should be: Why should governments be in the business of picking right and wrong technologies at all?

As the MIT innovation in lighting suggests, there are possibilities yet undiscovered that regulators have not thought of. If you write detailed regulations about existing technologies, you are forestalling the possibilities that scientists and entrepreneurs will discover new ways of doing things in the future.

A vast regulatory apparatus on cell phone technology in 1990 could never have imagined something like a modern cellphone. Regulations on digital commerce in 2000 might have stopped the rise of peer-to-peer services like Uber. Indeed, one of the reasons that the digital world is so innovative is precisely because the regulators haven’t yet caught up with the pace of innovation.

Regulations on technology freeze the status quo in place and make it permanent. How, for example, will regulations respond to the news that a new and improved form of incandescent bulb is possible? Early tests show it to be more efficient that the replacements which the regulations favor. Will there be a new vote, a rewrite of the law, a governing body that evaluates new lightbulbs, the same way we approach prescription drugs? None of this can possibly match the efficiency of a market process of trial and error, of experimentation, rejection, and adoption.

In government, a ban is a ban, something to be enforced, not tweaked according to new discoveries and approaches.

Herein we see the problems with all attempts by government to tightly manage any technology. Bitcoin is a great example. As soon as the price began to rise and the crypto sector began to appear viable, government agencies got in the business of regulating them as if the sector was already taking a shape that would last forever. And because technology and industry are always on the move, there is never a rational time to intervene with the proclamation “this is how it shall always be.”

Regulatory interventions stop the progress of history by disabling the limitless possibilities of the human imagination.

By the time regulators get around to rethinking the incandescent, the industry will probably have moved on to something new and even better, something no one can imagine could exist today.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at where this article first appeared, CLO of the startup, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

  • EmmettGrogan

    Great article and you ask the right questions – why should the govt have a say on what technologies are legal?

  • George_Costanza

    LEDs are far more efficient by themselves. 200 lumens per watt.
    And considering that LED light bulb manufacturers are scraping the bottom of the barrel, having an overall system efficiency of over 100 lumens per watt is nice.

    • AndyUK

      What do you mean’ nope’? You don’t believe the article?!

  • bobmaginnis

    Wrong! The ‘gov’ didn’t ban incandescents, just required something like 30% better efficiency, which should be easy to meet with the new bulbs

    • Cat411

      Didn’t a lot of incandescent bulb manufacturers in the US go out of business shortly after the new gov. regulations?

  • Carroll Price

    If LED technology forced researchers to develop a vastly more efficient incandescent bulb (which remains to be seen) LEDs served a useful purpose. But who says vastly more efficient incandescent bulbs will cost any less than LED bulbs?

  • Tom

    In all the years of debate on light bulbs, I’ve never heard anyone else address the benefits of incandescent bulbs on dimmer switches. I’m not stuck with one light level — when I want bright enough light to read by, I can have that; when I just need enough light to not bump into furniture, I can have that, too, from the same fixture. Best of all, incandescent bulbs on dimmers run on lower than the full 120 volts so they last close to forever. I’ve personally known them to last over 25 years of daily use.

  • Curious

    Could the push for CFLs be related to the fact that (a) they contain mercury and thus further contaminate our environment (contamination that ultimately becomes blamed on the “public”), and/or (b) they emit strong EM waves (i.e. “dirty electricity”), which I’ve measured as far as 6 feet away from the bulb (whereas non-CFLs produce no EM even inches from the bulb). In other words, just another form of “soft kill” …. so like many readers of this article, would love to find out how to obtain these MIT versions 🙂

    • William Burke

      Well, there is no prescribed procedure for dealing with a broken CFL bulb in the home, is there? Just sweep it up and toss it in the kitchen trash can.

      But if the same amount of mercury were spilled in a high school chemistry lab (when they have no mercury, it’s true), the guys in the white HazMat suits and alphabet agency vans would be all over it like stink on sh*t.

  • Chris

    Those new florescent bulbs gave me cluster headaches and a host of other problems, up all night peeing, no sleep, blurry vision, etc…. I had to remove them and buy commercial grade incandescent bulbs. I can’t believe all the problems those things caused me.

    • drbhelthi

      – and millions of others around the world who have not discovered that the EM waves are the source of their problems. Getting rid of the abundance of mercury in a manner that was profitable was the motivation of the “Wall Street types” who manipulated the switch from incandescent bulbs. The harmful EMF generated continues to be of no interest to the “profit margin” observers among the Wall Street types.

  • Ben

    @TOM Recently, switched out most of our lighting to LED. We used incandescent, swapped to CFL until we discovered they have mercury. The LEDs are expected to last 28-30 years. We have some standard 60 watt bulbs that only require 3 watts to use. LEDs operate cooler as well and provide steady, even lighting. Yes they may cost a bit more initially, over the long run though you do save money. We had bad issues with incandescent bulbs blowing out. It almost become a weekly problem. Had our LED bulbs 3-6 moths and no real issues save for the electricity itself goes out. Of course, that’s not an issue of the LED bulbs.

    • twinkiedooter

      I have had LED’s now for years and they don’t blow out like regular bulbs. My yard light would go thru regular bulbs every 5 months or so… I haven’t changed the LED in years.

      • Cat411

        I had a florescent bulb a while back in my office lamp. I think it was supposed to last 10,000 hours. I must say, it lasted a few years before it went out. So yeah, they’re cost effective, if you can afford to buy them. I’m on a limited budget, so I can’t.

  • Cat411

    I never could understand how the government could take such a stand. Someone in gov. must own the company! Who can afford to replace all of their incandescants with florescents or LEDs? Maybe if they bring the price way down. I wish the government would stop making decisions for me, and stay out of my daily life!!!

    Btw, we can still get incandescents at Dollar General, and they’re a fraction of the cost of the government-backed bulbs.

    • MichaelB204

      I agree with you. It seems that the two greatest driving forces we have to contend with are greed and false religions. Greed drives people who believe that creative business is producing something that they can get the government to compel people to buy. So generating political correctness is more important to them than research and development. Religious fervor is the only thing I see that would drive people to want to take away everyone’s freedom of choice. I think that, like Islam, the environmental movement falls into that category.

    • twinkiedooter

      I buy mine directly from China off Ebay for a fraction of what you can buy in the USA. The only drawback is that you have to wait sometimes up to 3 weeks for them to arrive but at $3 or $2 a bulb for 15W bulbs I can be patient. See my post above.

      • Cat411

        Sounds like a great price, but I don’t trust anything coming out of China. For instance; look at the defective lithium batteries they make that explode. And there are many other instances of defective or dangerous items that I can’t recall. I’d rather buy American made items if/when I can find them.

    • Brett

      If gov is backing something you ALWAYS bet there is a money trail somewhere. And, yes, we are all over governed. We could do well without them…

  • twinkiedooter

    I had the original incandescent lights in my home for years. Then switched to ALL CFL’s. Hated them…gave me headaches, etc. Then switched to all LED’s and like them much better…not cheap but light seems to be crisper… I use the Bright White light LED’s. Some are downward facing for my ceiling fixtures or outside lights and some are corn cob style for my chandeliers and others look like regular bulbs. The other regular bulb looking lights actually are very glary to me. I have cataracts in both eyes and can actually see BETTER with the bright white LED’s than I could with the CFL’s or the incandescent lights. To each his own I guess.

  • Walter

    You thesis is deeply flawed. Incandescent bulbs we not outlawed. The regulations require a minimum efficiency.

    No technology was outlawed.

    • James Jeansonne

      THE POINT IS, the government should not have a say in your spending or consumption practices. That is NOT a free market, that is fascist socialism. AKA BERNIE SANDERS

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    “Man was placed upon earth to be a builder and this is the meaning of that beautiful allegory concerning the Temple of Sol-om-on. Man also must build such a temple as did Sol-om-on. This temple is the soul.”

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    ”We ought to fly away from earth to heaven as quickly as we can; and to fly away is to become like God, as far as this is possible; and to become like him is to become holy, just, and wise.”
    “All admit that God is Omnipotent, Universal, and Divine. All admit that God rules, is immutable, and Supreme. Yet very few are willing to be like Him, to do like Him, and thereby to become like Him, the Sons of God.
    All admit that to attain Sonship with Him, to know Him, to become like Him, we must be like Him. We must be “raised up in His likeness.” The mortal must be changed, transmuted; it must put on Immortality. ”
    “In real worship,we just not do ritualistic worship but we try to embody the qualities of the one we are worshipping.”

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    “First I shall speak of the fetters of darkness
    which bind ye in chains to the sphere of the Earth.
    Darkness and light are both of one nature,
    different only in seeming,
    for each arose from the source of all.
    Darkness is disorder.
    Light is Order.
    Darkness transmuted is light of the Light.
    This, my children, your purpose in being;
    transmutation of darkness to light.”

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    Samuel 22:33
    ” God is my strength and power: and he makes my way perfect.”

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