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Stanford swaps hazardous halogens for new cool lights

Hazardous halogen torchiere lamps will soon become a distant memory on Stanford's campus, thanks to a safer light that has been developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and promoted by this university.

The new energy-efficient lamps will be swapped for halogen torchieres during an official exchange held on Thursday, June 12, at 11 a.m. This will take place in the Lakeside Room of the Elliott Program Center at Governor's Corner between Campus Drive West and Santa Teresa Street. (Parking is available on site.)

Yale, Princeton and other universities have simply banned halogen torchieres, which are popular because they're cheap and bright although they guzzle energy and pose a serious fire hazard, safety experts say. It is estimated that up to 50 million halogen torchieres are in use nationwide.

A typical 300-watt halogen torchiere ­ which looks like a salad bowl on top of a pole ­ burns at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hot enough to sizzle an egg or ignite paper.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has blamed these lamps for about 10 deaths and more than 100 fires, including disasters at Windsor Castle in England and at jazz musician Lionel Hampton's apartment in New York City.

Stanford also has experienced a couple of minor fires in student dorms in recent years. But David Frost, housing energy manager in Student Housing Services, says the university decided to approach the problem more constructively than by just imposing an outright ban.

"The idea was to find a superior alternative to halogens," he says.

The result is the CoolBrite 4000 that is being manufactured by Emess Lighting Inc. in Ellwood City, Pa., based on a prototype developed by the Department of Energy-funded Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

Erik Page, a senior research associate at the lab, said his research group first looked at halogen lights a couple of years ago because sales were growing so quickly. The group started working on an alternative prototype after studies showed that halogen torchieres were using more energy than all of the energy saved nationwide by compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), an energy-efficient alternative to the incandescent bulb.

The new-style torchiere, which uses CFLs, burns at only 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But it is 20 percent brighter and uses a fifth of the energy consumed by most 300-watt halogen lamps.

The first-ever batch of the new lamps arrived on campus in April. With support from the university's Energy Retrofit Program, several dozen new lamps were exchanged at no cost for halogen torchieres in student housing at Mirrielees and Lambda Nu.

A second swap is scheduled to take place at Stanford on June 12, says Frost. By fall, halogen torchieres will no longer be permitted in student housing. The new CoolBrites will be sold on campus for $50 to $80. This is a higher sticker price than for halogen torchieres, which can cost as little as $15, but Frost says payback in energy savings is realized in 1.7 years.

"The [new] bulbs will last five times as long as halogens, lasting up to seven years with typical use," he says. "If a student buys a lamp as a freshman, he or she could finish co-terming before needing to buy a lamp."

Frost says he hopes that Stanford can help set a standard nationwide for universities and homes that want to save energy and reduce fire risk.

"A whole new industry is starting up," he says.


By Lisa Trei