Responding to three individually filed exception requests, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has postponed by two years (to July 14, 2014) the phase-out date for 700-series T-8 general-service fluorescent lamps (GSFLs) manufactured by GE Lighting (GE); OSRAM SYLVANIA, Inc. (OSI); and Philips Lighting Company (Philips).
Only companies that have been excepted by DOE may continue to manufacture or import the T-8 GSFLs in question beyond July 14, 2012. The lamps involved are the 4-foot medium bi-pin, 2-foot U-shaped, 8-foot Slimline, and 8-foot high-output 700-series T-8s. Reportedly, other manufacturers may be in the process of seeking a DOE exception.
DOE’s Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) granted the extensions to GE, OSI, and Philips. (Companies must petition the OHA individually. OHA grants requests to individual companies, not to the industry as a whole.) The basis for the exceptions was the growing scarcity and escalating cost of the rare earth oxides used to manufacture the phosphors intrinsic to the proper functioning of fluorescent lamps. The severe supply/cost difficulties—which were not foreseen when the DOE Lamp Rulemaking of 2009 concluded—have been caused by manufacturing and export regulations subsequently instituted by China.
According to the DOE OHA ruling, “China now controls approximately 97% of the worldwide supply of rare earth elements and rare earth oxides, and has adopted policies that have drastically reduced the volumes of rare earth elements and oxides that can be exported to U.S. lighting manufacturers.”
The impact of China’s rare earth market manipulations is underscored by a National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) report that world prices for terbium increased at an annual rate of more than 400% in 2011; for europium oxides, the 2011 escalation rate exceeded 500%. This trend is not expected to reverse anytime soon. China’s supply constriction is occurring at the same time that worldwide demand for rare earth oxides is spiking because of the impending compliance date of the new GSFL standards, as well as competing demand for rare earth oxides on the part of manufacturers of computers, televisions, wind turbines, and motors, among other equipment.
According to National Lighting Bureau Chair Howard P. Lewis, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s (IES’) representative on the Bureau board of directors, had the 700-series T-8 phase-out been allowed to take effect on July 14, 2012, 800-series T-8s would have been among the most logical alternatives. The cost of 800-series T-8s exceeds that of 700-series T-8s because the rare earth content of 800-series T-8s significantly exceeds that of 700-series T-8s. Mr. Lewis observed that “this ruling enhances affordability at a time when it’s needed. We applaud DOE for its good judgment, and GE, OSI, and Philips for seeking the exceptions.”
Those three excepted companies are among National Lighting Bureau sponsors. Established in 1976, the National Lighting Bureau is an independent, not-for-profit, lighting information source sponsored by professional societies, trade associations, manufacturers, and agencies of the U.S. government. A copy of the DOE OHA ruling is available on request to [email protected]