New Tungsten Lighting Beats LED Efficiency by up to 128%

tungsten lighting

Engineers at MIT have shown a promising new Tungsten lighting technology which could allow the good old incandescent filament bulb to beat out LED’s in efficiency in the near future.

Incandescent bulbs have powered film lighting for… well, pretty much forever.

Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan

While many quite rightly associate Thomas Edison with the incandescent light bulb, its invention is actually attributed to a British physicist and chemist named Joseph Swan. In 1880, Joseph Swan received a patent for a method of treating a cotton thread to produce a filament—improving upon all earlier attempts. His house was the first in the world to be lit by a lightbulb!


The first tungsten filament bulbs were marketed in 1904 and various improvements were made throughout the 1920s and 30s. By the 1960s the efficiency of commercial tungsten filament bulbs had reached a plateau of around 2.5%, producing about 17 lm/W (lumens per Watt). Tungsten halogen bulbs, which use a low-pressure halogen gas in the bulb to allow evaporated tungsten metal to be redeposited back onto the filament, reach higher efficiencies of 3.5% or up to 24 lm/W.

HMI lighting (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide lamp) achieves large gains on tungsten-halogen, pushing efficiencies of between 12% and 16% or 85-108 lm/W.

Only recently have high powered LEDs started pushing the smaller traditional incandescent lighting aside although for high powered lighting applications HMI’s are still common. High-performance LED lighting can achieve an efficiency of up to 17% or 120 lm/W, which is a huge increase over both traditional tungsten and tungsten-halogen incandescent bulbs.

To learn more about different types of lighting you can read: Let There Be Light – Four Common Types of Film Lights and for more information about remote phosphor LED lights, take a look at Shedding Light on Remote Phosphor LED’s

Researchers at MIT claim that their new incandescent bulb could achieve efficiencies of 40% or 275 lm/W, outstripping solid state LED by a massive 128%.

By surrounding the tungsten filament with a special crystal structure in the glass, they can bounce back the IR energy which is usually lost to the atmosphere as wasted heat. Visible spectrum light passes through the glass while IR is reflected back to heat the filament.

All About Color—The Tungsten Lighting Advantage!

The major advantage that incandescent lighting has over fluorescent and LED lighting is a perfect 100 CRI (Color Rendering Index). Tungsten incandescent lighting emits a full spectrum light that renders all colors exactly as we would expect to see them under natural sunlight. A black body radiator, which includes tungsten, and the sun for that matter, emit a full continuous spectrum.

The technology is in the early stages, and researchers at MIT have demonstrated a working proof of concept that operates at the low-end of the potential efficiency that can be achieved.

Only time will tell if we will see tungsten lighting make a comeback. What we do know is that this promising new technology could indicate that the future of film and video lighting is bright indeed!

We may get the best of both worlds… the ideal light quality and color rendering of tungsten lighting along with higher outputs and efficiency than any other lighting technology to date.

Read more on MIT News. Featured image courtesy of MIT.

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Zach Ashcraft Reply
Zach Ashcraft January 15, 2016

This is really exciting news! I know LED’s like the Westcott Flex are all the rage right now, but to me nothing beats the look of tungsten in most environments, especially on skin tones. Hopefully we do see this affect the marketplace soon.

Richard Lackey Reply
Richard Lackey January 15, 2016

Yes, the applications are as wide ranging as incandescents were always used before. I imagine home and office lighting will come before more specialised applications like film and video lighting, but they’ve got it running already at a similar efficiency to LED’s in their lab, and believe they can push it as high as 40% efficiency, which nothing else comes close to at the moment. For color rendition, it’s a real win.

Eric Bogan January 22, 2016

I doubt you will see these in “home and office lighting” in the U.S. unless Congress removes the ban on incandescent bulbs.

Robert McHammerstein September 13, 2016

The ban isn’t a blanket ban on “incandescent bulbs,” it restricts bulbs over a specified wattage and performing under a specified efficiency. As these are more efficient than LEDs, they pass both requirements easily.

Drew Mittman Reply
Drew Mittman January 15, 2016


Simon Rabeder Reply
Simon Rabeder January 15, 2016

!!!! <3

Mark Moreve Reply
Mark Moreve January 15, 2016

It’s also full spectrum. Which I always think is far more important.

Kerrick Ker-Bear Martin Reply
Kerrick Ker-Bear Martin January 15, 2016

and I just bought LED lights. fuq.

Alexander Vanderploeg Reply
Alexander Vanderploeg January 15, 2016

You got at least 10 years to enjoy your LEDs before these come out..

Danny Kim Reply
Danny Kim January 16, 2016

Not to mention the life cycle and much cooler operating temperature of LED’s versus tungsten. You can actually pick up or change the filter on the front of an LED light that’s been operating all day without burning yourself.

 Andy Welch Reply
Andy Welch January 16, 2016

That’s the whole point- these incandescents won’t be hot because the energy that is released as heat in normal incandescents is being contained within the crystal structure to (re)heat the filament in this new technology.

 Tim Foster Reply
Tim Foster January 15, 2016

This is great. Even if you gel them to daylight you’d still be getting roughly the efficiency of a modern LED.

Bruno Polidoro Reply
Bruno Polidoro January 16, 2016


Michael Vincent Sarricchio Reply
Michael Vincent Sarricchio January 16, 2016

BEAT IT! this is awesome

Nicholas Lam January 17, 2016

The actual press release says:

“The first proof-of-concept units made by the team do not yet reach that level, achieving about 6.6 percent efficiency.”

So currently they can only achieve 6.6% efficiency. I hope they will get to 40% efficiency soon.

 Heikki Pitkänen Reply
Heikki Pitkänen January 19, 2016

But I’ve come to understand that Cree has made LED’s with 300 lm/W efficacy already in 2014. They are not 100 CRI but I think 120 lm/W is underestimate anyway.

Joe Marler January 25, 2016

The title is incorrect and misleading. LED efficiency is already at 300 lumens per watt and increasing:

The theoretical limit for a white light RGB led is probably around 400 lumens per watt, so the new Cree LED is 75% of the theoretical max achievable efficiency.

 Rich Reilly Reply
Rich Reilly February 15, 2016

Sounds like color temperature shift under dimming would be a factor.

Avinash Kulkarni March 5, 2016

Dr Avinash Kulkarni
Getting 40% efficacy for tungsten filament could take ages to achieve. Don’t hold your breath!
Using high resolution, highly sensitive digital cameras could we drop lighting levels with current halogen lamps by say a factor 2 to 5?

Avinash Kulkarni March 5, 2016

With halogen lamp once the CCT is fixed, say 3200K, the relative intensities of wavelengths in the visible spectrum is fixed and reproducible. I therefore, do believe that halogen light sources will dominate the film lighting for years to come.

 Greg Barker Reply
Greg Barker March 17, 2016

COULD. Important qualifier.

 Wosim Tahan Reply
Wosim Tahan April 20, 2016

To be honest LED’s are now running at 220LM/w although this leap in technology is highly appreciated but the LED industry is also transforming and developing and improving constantly

Therefore the only advantage we see is cost/durability/longevity in other words ROI