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Let There be Light, not Heat

Why are Whole Foods, McDonald's, Macy's, and Hyatt Hotels using fiber-optic lighting systems? Because they save energy and don't transmit heat.

April 01, 2006 |

Fiber-optic lighting systems can deliver light comparable to conventional halogen or incandescent bulbs while saving up to 80% of energy costs. They can illuminate perishable foods and materials without heating them. That's why a growing number of food stores, retail chains, hotels, and casinos are installing them.

Because fiber optics work on a simple light reflection principle, they can carry light long distances while at the same time discarding the heat energy required for the light's generation. Fiber-optic lines are tiny strands of optically pure glass, arranged in bundles. The tiny glass fibers are covered with an outer optical cladding material (usually also glass) that constantly reflects light down a line through total internal reflection. A buffer coating of plastic protects the fiber from damage and moisture. By using optical regenerators, these lines can deliver close to 75% of the light generated at the source to fixtures. But they don't conduct one degree of heat.

"The Whole Foods store in Toronto is using it in their seafood section," said John Davenport, CEO of Solon, Ohio-based Fiberstars, a maker of fiber-optic lighting. "They've actually increased the lights on their fish and reduced the amount of heat on them by 10 degrees using one of our systems."

Whole Foods Market, Inc., of Austin, Texas, is using Fiberstars systems in many of its 181 locations in North America for perishables such as seafood and lunch meats, as well as for frozen food cases and overhead lighting. Fiber-optic lights fit in with the company's philosophy, says Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey. They also enhance the presentation of food products, he says, because the highly reflective light makes groceries and other perishables more appealing to shoppers.

First beta-tested in the Austin, Texas, flagship Whole Foods Market store, Fiberstars’ patented EFO system saved 72% more energy than the existing store lighting system with MR16 lamps.

Fiber-optic systems have long been used to light swimming pools and commercial offices interiors. Now they are being used in retail stores, fast-food restaurants, casinos, hotels, and other high-visibility establishments, said Fiberstars' Davenport, a 25-year veteran of R&D at GE Lighting.

Fiberstars has collected 41 patents (25 pending) for fiber-optic lighting technology. Among them is the metal-halide lamp—the Efficient Fiber-optic, or EFO—that's used as the light source in most of its systems. One lamp can serve at least eight fixtures in most Fiberstars systems. A single EFO 70-watt, metal-halide lamp can replace the candlepower of eight 50-watt, MR16 EXN halogen light bulbs, for a savings of 400 watts.

First beta-tested in the Austin, Texas, flagship Whole Foods store and now being used in more than 12 Whole Foods stores, the patented EFO system achieved a 72% savings over lighting systems based on MR16 lamps.

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