Green lights industry gets the go-ahead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2008, 12:00am

Advances in semiconductor technology may soon make the traditional light bulb obsolete, to be replaced by light emitting diodes (LEDs). The technology is already standard in the latest electronic equipment, including mobile phones. It is also becoming a familiar item on giant public television screens around Hong Kong, such as World-Wide House in Central and Star House in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Demiurge Unit, a local lighting company focusing on LED technology design, programming and applications, is growing from strength to strength in taking on niche architectural and commercial projects.

'LED lighting is the future. It won't be too long before it replaces all lighting,' said Teddy Lo, chief executive of Demiurge Unit, whose projects include the entrance facade to the newly renovated Lisboa Hotel in Macau and the new Beijing headquarters of VIA Technologies, a leading computer chip supplier.

'The rapid growth and development of LEDs is similar to the computer industry,' said Mr Lo, adding that the global industry was worth US$3.9 billion in 2005. This year it was expected to exceed US$10 billion.

LED technology is infinitely more flexible and colourful than traditional lighting, with computer programmes able to create millions of colour themes and moods, from warm to cool, and it is also a lot more energy efficient. As 'solid state' lights, LEDs also have a much longer lifespan - five to 10 years more than incandescent bulbs that heat a filament and burn-out. A standard incandescent light bulb produces less than 20 lumens of light per watt, with most of the electric energy generating heat, not visible light. Fluorescent light bulbs produce 80 lumens, while LEDs can produce more than 150 lumens. Mr Lo said that conventional light bulbs wasted so much energy that many governments including Australia and Canada would ban incandescent bulbs by 2012.

'Commercial and retail applications of the technology are also extending all the time,' said Mr Lo, who started experimenting with LEDs in digital paintings and sculptures in New York after graduating from the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California.

'Fashion icons are adopting the technology for their flagship stores and launch parties. [The technology] is also being used to adjust moods and themes in restaurants, bars, clubs and shops. In supermarkets you can make red meat look redder and fresher, or green vegetables greener, simply by adjusting the light spectrum or colour rendering.'

There was a bright future for the LED industry and Mr Lo said career prospects were blossoming for graduates, especially for graphic and 3D designers, lighting engineers, and mechanical and electrical engineers.

'It's a multidisciplinary field with great opportunities for engineers and designers,' he said. Being creative and open to new ideas is an important attribute for people in this industry. The company's workforce has grown from three to 15 as it has continued to land luminescent installation contracts in Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and the mainland.