At the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solid-State Lighting R&D Workshop on February 3, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced the winners of the design phase of the latest DOE L-Prize competition. The program aims to drive innovation with interoperable LED lighting systems in commercial building applications. These systems can include LED fixtures, sensors, control devices and interfaces.
I helped design this iteration of the L-Prize competition, which was last held ten years ago. In the design phase, we encouraged competitors to submit designs that go beyond current lighting innovation constraints such as cost, form factor, materials and controls. Participants were challenged to imagine and design concept systems that achieve energy efficiency, lighting quality, connectivity and life cycle requirements beyond those of currently commercially available products, taking consider issues related to environmental sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Secretary Granholm’s announcement resulted in an exciting first stage of design and engineering for attendees.
The first phase of the competition also invited the participation of all interested teams or inventors. We supported the submission of designs from well-known manufacturers to non-traditional manufacturers, including garage inventors and academics. Seeing submissions from individuals, small teams and experts outside of the lighting industry who brought new perspectives to this challenge was exciting. Our Expert Reviewers Panel (ERP) reviewed and scored all eligible submissions and selected four as winners for this phase. Each winner received $20,000 in prizes. Below are the features and innovations the ERP noted, along with information about the four winners.
QuarkStar, an international group of lighting thought leaders working in partnership with Nichia, presented a tunable networked luminaire concept in white for retrofit projects. The concept, dubbed “Project Tango”, is based on innovations in optics, LED construction and power conversion technology. The ERP was impressed with its new optical design and its potential to simultaneously deliver extremely high optical efficiency and precisely controlled light distribution.
The concept proposed by QuarkStar uses OpenThread, an open-source network protocol developed by Google. To date, open source protocols have not gained much popularity in commercial lighting, but they have the potential to enable greater interoperability between building systems, including lighting. Other notable highlights include top-down design decisions focused on durability and waste reduction, such as predictive maintenance and modular replacement and field-capable upgrades. Las Vegas-based QuarkStar has a long track record of workforce diversity in its innovation and intellectual property teams, earning the company bonus points in the DEI category. (Editor’s note: Learn more about QuarkStar in this issue’s profile article.)
Sustainable and connected troffer retrofit
Orion Energy Systems of Manitowoc, WI supported the conversion from fluorescence to LED with its input. The concept included a high-efficiency networked LED fixture with advanced controls that could be swapped in place of an existing fluorescent fixture in less than 2 minutes.
ERP appreciated Orion’s application of advanced capabilities to retrofit situations, which account for approximately 90% of the overall lighting market. Rapid installation of the concept of an advanced control platform would also solve a current obstacle in the market. The ERP also praised the luminaire’s high efficiency (184 lm/W), excellent color quality and use of standards-based plug-and-play controls, which can reduce costs and increase adoption. . A modular light engine is designed to be field upgraded to improve or change performance. The modular approach not only allows potential efficiency to be maintained or increased, but also allows for better end-of-life outcomes, such as recycling or proper disposal of e-waste. Finally, the diversity among design and engineering team members and the inclusion of diverse STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) students through internships earned bonus points.
Level 3 Lateral Symmetry Engine for 3D Printing
Mountain View, CA start-up Smash the Bulb has partnered with Bridgelux of Fremont, CA on a 3D-printed semi-indirect luminaire concept that uses a high-performance light engine that requires no secondary optics to provide high efficiency and quality of light. The ERP appreciated the innovative optical design of the luminaire, which treats glare and reduces losses. Reviewers found the 3D-printed luminaire housing intriguing for its ability to be produced on a jobsite to alleviate supply chain challenges and reduce the environmental impact of packaging and shipping fixtures. remote lights. From a networking perspective, ERP appreciated multi-protocol compatibility (DALI, 0-10V, Bluetooth), which would help support interoperability with other systems.
Papaya Modular Lighting Ecosystem
Papaya of Evanston, IL was a unique winner in that the team comes entirely from outside the lighting industry. Its modular lighting ecosystem concept offers an open-source, community-based approach where innovators from all disciplines can participate in the evolution of this lighting solution over time. Some reviewers were enthusiastic about this model while others questioned its viability in the competitive and rapidly changing lighting market. It will be interesting to see if this concept can be shown as a working prototype and eventually a commercially available product.
Beyond the open-source model, reviewers were intrigued by the concept’s highly modular design and use of cutting-edge technologies, including a lightweight module with potential neural network and machine learning capabilities.
Next step: L-Prize prototype phase
The design phase of the L-Prize called for original thinking and new approaches from innovators across the country. The next prototype phase opens this summer and seeks working lighting system prototypes that meet the L-Prize’s rigorous energy efficiency, light quality, connectivity and product lifecycle requirements – the combination of which is expected to exceed the capabilities of currently available products. This phase is open to everyone, whether or not they participated in the design phase. Participants are welcome and encouraged to build and submit prototypes, which the ERP will evaluate and score. The winners of the prototype phase will share a prize pool of $2 million.
When we open the prototype phase, we will also issue a request for information (RFI) aimed at connecting interested parties for possible partnership agreements for production, installation, evaluation, demonstration and /or systems deployment. This partner RFI will remain open for the duration of the L-Prize and published on the L-Prize website. In the meantime, people looking for partnerships can consult the L-Prize websitewhich currently lists 29 teams and 193 innovators already registered.
Congratulations to the winners of the design phase and good luck to everyone involved in the prototype phase. We’re closer than ever to revolutionizing the lighting industry and can’t wait to see what happens next.
Meet our expert
KATE HICKCOX is a lighting researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which administers the L-Prix program with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. With over 18 years of experience in lighting research and design, Hickcox is a creative thinker in the field of lighting.
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