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Fiberstars, or how to use fiber optic lights

Lights developed using fiber optics don’t contaminate, don’t produce heat and are more efficient. Unique but, at the moment, they’re expensive. Keep an eye on this trend: lighting EFO.

It’s not the name of a distant galaxy, nor of a dwarfish planet like Pluto. EFO stands for “efficient fiber optics” and Fiberstars is an American company that has invested all its energy in developing fiber optic lighting systems.

Despite being a costly system, fiber optic lights don’t emit mercury like conventional fluorescents, don’t radiate heat nor emit ultraviolet light. Although what is causing the most interest is their efficiency: a single 70-watt metal halide lamp from Fiberstars connected to the company’s fiber system generates the equivalent of eight 50-watt incandescent bulbs.

The idea of using the extraordinary conductivity of fiber optics for lighting systems has been developed over the past few decades. Founded in the late eighties, Fiberstars has developed their EFO lighting system thanks to about $16 million in U.S. federal research grants, but because of the high price of their products, their clients are mainly the “commercial lighting, sign and swimming pool, and spa markets.”

Michael Kanellos of CNET’s tech e-newspaper News.com describes the EFO market as “niche applications” such as the Las Vegas hotels that use the lighting to beam special effects onto their ceilings and walls, or swimming pool manufacturers who purchase the lighting because all the electronics are located outside the water, eliminating the threat of electrocution.

The lighting market is changing, according to Kanellos, and with rising electricity prices in rich countries and new stricter regulations regarding the use of contaminating substances and carcinogens like mercury, the fiber optic option could go mainstream.

Interested in sustainable illumination

The client list for sustainable illumination, like that of Fiberstars, is growing significantly. The Whole Foods Supermarket chain has substituted their incandescent lights in the fish and seafood section of their stores for the EFO option which doesn’t generate heat and so saves on refrigeration costs.

The Albertson’s supermarket chain plans to do the same, while the W Hotel in New York has announced that they will install this type of lighting in their hallways.

While the American company expects to market its products for residential users in 2007, no European company has followed suit, perhaps due to the lack of public money to help prop up a market still in its infancy. Despite net sales of more than 28 million dollars in 2005, Fiberstars lost 7,4 million in the same year.

Despite their growing pains, Fiberstars has reached some very hallowed halls. Their EFO lighting is used to illuminate the original document of the Statement of Independence of the United States and the Magna Carta, because it doesn’t emit ultraviolet rays or heat and thus, prevents premature aging.