The old-school incandescent bulb has been getting a bad rap, but MIT researchers say they've figured out a way to make one that even Al Gore would embrace. In fact, their breakthrough could result in an incandescent bulb far more efficient than the more modern LEDs or compact fluorescents, reports the Telegraph. Traditional incandescent bulbs are notoriously inefficient—electricity passes through a filament to create light, but more than 95% of the energy is lost through heat. The MIT researchers got around that by encasing the filament in "photonic crystal" that bounces the escaping energy back to the filament, which then reabsorbs it and converts it to light, reports UPI. Think of it as "light recycling," they explain in a post at MIT. "It recycles the energy that would otherwise be wasted."
Their working prototype raised the efficiency of the incandescent bulb to 6.6%, which is roughly triple that of an unmodified incandescent and on par with the lower end of LEDs (5% to 15%) and compact fluorescents (7% to 13%), reports Science. However, the researchers say their computer modeling suggests this procedure, which uses nanoengineered mirrors, could ultimately result in a whopping 40% efficiency. Another real-world selling point: The incandescent emits its usual warm, natural glow, one that's generally seen as superior to the more modern bulbs. "If the approach lives up to its promise, cutting-edge photonics could give Edison's glowing filaments a new lease on life," writes Robert Service at Science. (Read more discoveries stories.)