Online Exclusives

Nonwovens Technology Brightens Lives Without Upping Energy Output

By Karen Bitz McIntyre, Editor | May 9, 2012

NC researchers use nanofiber-based technology to increase lighting efficiency.

Researchers at RTI International are developing a nonwovens-based technology platform for the lighting industry. Called NLITe, the technology uses polymer nanofibers to increase the reflectivity of lighting fixtures, allowing them to provide up to 40% more light with 0% less energy.  This technology works in any lighting fixture, from traditional fluorescents to emerging energy efficient LED based fixtures.

“This is an exciting new technology for the lighting market based on nonwovens,” says Galen Hatfield, vice president of commercial programs for RTI International, a North Carolina-based nonprofit research institute. “We have received tremendous response from nonwovens producers not only because this is an opportunity to bring nonwovens into a new space where they don’t play but also because it is a high end technical product that can drive higher margins.”
In the new technology, the nonwoven creates a reflectance higher than 95% and replaces traditional coatings, such as paint or aluminum, which can have reflectance values below 80%. By improving the light output by as much as 40%, NLITe offers improved energy efficiency, lower installation and operating costs and lower energy costs.
Hatfield explains light fixtures outfitted with NLITe are brighter because the small fibers diffuse the light across a range of surfaces in the same way freshly fallen snow reflects sunlight. The material can also be modified to adjust the color palette of the light.
“The beauty of the technology is that it is dependent on the fiber structure, not the method of production,” he adds. “We have worked with people who use a variety of different manufacturing processes and we believe the technology is very versatile.”

RTI developed the technology using funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. The project originally set out to develop a key technology to improve the efficiency and performance of solid-state lighting as a means to help manage energy consumption in the U.S.
Steven Chu, U.S. secretary of energy, described the set of technologies it funded as having the potential to change the way Americans light their homes and businesses while generating enormous energy and cost savings. “These investments in cutting edge lighting technologies will support American innovation, create new manufacturing jobs for U.S. workers and help ensure that the U.S. leads the world in this rapidly evolving industry,” he says.
The technology has also received high praise from industry insiders. NLITe was honored last year with an R&D 100 award, an annual competition sponsored by R&D Magazine to honor the 100 most significant new technologies of the year.

Solely a research firm without the ability to sell products on its own, RTI International is now working on a business plan for the new technology and expects to have the product commercialized—in some way or another—within the next year. “I don’t think we’ll have enough material to coat every fixture in America but we should be able to seed the market with select applications within the next 12-18 months,” Hatfield says. “We were thrilled at the excitement we heard from nonwovens producers.”

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