The final farewell hour of classic fluorescent lamps is approaching. From 1 September 2023, fluorescent lamps of the T8 design may no longer be sold in the EU. The fluorescent lamp, often incorrectly referred to as a neon tube in everyday language, is about to reach a fundamental turning point in its history. Since the last century, this lamp, which was very popular because of its high luminous efficacy compared to conventional incandescent lamps, has found countless applications, especially in industry. However, the technology that makes the high luminous efficacy possible – a combination of a luminous layer on the inside of the glass tube and a filling of mercury and inert gas – is no longer up to date and does not meet current environmental protection standards. This led to an EU ban on fluorescent lamps.
The motives for this regulation are actually multi-layered: technical advancements in the lighting industry and the urge for more environmental protection are at the heart of this decision. What opportunities arise from the switch to LED lighting? And what significance does the new regulation have for disposal and the health and environmental problem caused by the mercury contained in fluorescent tubes? Because despite the potential challenges this ban brings, it also presents a number of opportunities for switching to future-proof sustainable and energy-efficient alternatives.
Impact of the EU Ecodesign Regulation on the Chemical Industry
The EU’s decision to phase out fluorescent tubes is based on a number of reasons, including technological progress and environmental protection. The mercury vapour used in these tubes poses a real health and environmental problem, especially when it comes to disposal. The EU’s Ecodesign Regulation, introduced in 2019, aims to save over 49 TWh by 2030 through the use of energy-efficient appliances. This corresponds to almost one-tenth of Germany’s total annual electricity demand. That alone should speak in favour of the EU ban on fluorescent lamps.
But there are also a few exceptions: Particularly relevant for the process industry are light sources and separate operating devices used in potentially explosive atmospheres or for safety lighting. But this exception comes with clear requirements. For example, even under the new directive, fluorescent lamps must comply with the above-mentioned legislation and be tested accordingly.
Economical and Environmentally Friendly Alternative
With the current increasing shortage of fluorescent lamps, the question of efficient alternatives naturally arises for all companies concerned. Here, switching to LED lamps actually offers by far the most economical solution. With comparable light output, they require only about half the electrical energy consumed by a fluorescent tube. In addition, the longer-lasting luminous intensity and service life of LED fixtures enable significant cost savings in the area of maintenance.
In addition, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (Germany) subsidises investments in LED technology by up to 20 per cent. The subsidy applies both to the replacement of existing lighting systems as well as to control and regulation technology. However, the application for this funding must be submitted before the refurbishment measure begins.
The switch to LED lights as a result of the EU ban on fluorescent lamps clearly brings both ecological and economic advantages. It is essential for the industry to approach this change proactively and to prepare quickly for the changes in the lighting market.
(Source: Chemical Engineering 5/23)
Photo: Mario Hoesel