Smarter LED lights that are better for our health
An EU-funded project is developing smart luminaires that are customised, have longer lifespans, and can improve our moods and productivity. This could make us healthier and boost the competitiveness and eco-friendliness of Europe's lighting industry.
© dglavinova #76331619, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
LED lights are energy-efficient; they last longer than normal lighting and are more durable, although they produce a lot of electronic waste. There is currently a move towards making LED lights better for our health by matching the bodys circadian rhythm to improve alertness and sleep patterns. But smart lighting raises the complexity and cost of production, and the global LED lighting industry is crowded and highly competitive.
The EU-funded REPRO-LIGHT project is finding ways to make production more sustainable and speed up development while, at the same time, helping to contribute to our health and well-being.
It is focusing on three areas: improving lighting quality by exploiting possible health effects using intelligent LED lights which adjust to changes in the environment, and optimising the life cycle of lighting systems from production to disposal. It also aims to make components reusable and recyclable.
The project team is developing prototypes, with patents expected to be registered soon. To determine the needs of consumers and industry stakeholders and influence the design of new lights, it has also conducted two surveys.
Light can positively influence an individuals ability to sustain attention and cognitive performance during daytime and at night. In addition, the light patterns an employee experiences during the daytime may affect his or her sleep patterns. With the individual dynamic lighting of the REPRO-LIGHT system, a workers circadian rhythm is stabilised, says Wilfried Pohl, head of research at project leader Bartenbach GmbH.
Working on better lighting
Because lighting affects our perceptions and moods, it also impacts our health and productivity. Light controls the bodys circadian rhythm; it promotes specific chemical reactions and effects production of the hormone melatonin which plays a role in sleep. Light can positively influence a persons ability to sustain attention both day and night. Light patterns experienced during the day may also affect sleep patterns.
Lighting in work places is often designed to minimise visual discomfort rather than consider the negative physiological and neurobehavioral effects artificial lighting has on humans. There is a difference between natural and artificial light in terms of colour, intensity and light dynamics. Outside on a sunny day a person may be exposed to 100 000 lux (measure of light intensity); indoors and in offices this is reduced to 500 lux, and in schools it falls to 300 lux of light. As people spend 90 % of their time indoors, most of the time they are living in biological darkness. Light deficiency can have negative effects, such as fatigue and attention deficit.
REPRO-LIGHT is designing more human-centric lighting to provide the right light for our activities, at the right place and at the right time, according to our needs. Such lighting has been found to boost an employees alertness and vitality during the day and night, sustaining attention and cognitive performance. This increases productivity at work, while reducing the number of errors, accidents and sick days.
REPRO-LIGHT conducted a survey of 1 100 workers in Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria to determine their lighting needs and how they impact their health and well-being. More than half of the respondents said they would like better workplace lighting; over 90 % felt work lighting affected their mood; 87 % said it impacted their performance; and 92 % said it influenced their alertness at work. The majority said they would like lighting which automatically adapts to individual needs and changes colour when it gets dark outside.
The survey also showed that women are more inclined to encourage better workplace lighting and workers over 50 have a greater desire for better lighting. More than half the respondents said lighting aesthetics are important.
The REPRO-LIGHT project will integrate the results into the design of prototype lights which will be tested in an office environment in Spain, Austria and Germany, and an industrial building in Germany.
A brighter future
Improvements in the manufacture of LED lights will save money, materials and energy by combining separate production processes and introducing new techniques, including 3D printing.
REPRO-LIGHT is developing lights with components adapted to four environments: industry, office and healthcare. The LEDs produced will have a low environmental impact using components which are easy to remove, reusable and customisable.
In support of the circular economy, the team will carry out a life-cycle analysis of the products with the aim of minimising electronic waste and the use of rare raw materials. It will also reduce the use of wires and circuit boards and cut energy consumption by making the lights dimmable and sensitive to natural light.
There is a will by the project partners to create the best lighting solution for end-users and in terms of sustainability. To achieve this, serious research is being carried out to really understand the problem first, says Pohl. I think this is a big achievement to create that much knowledge in an industry-driven project.