Waterproof LEDs Safe Enough for Fish
By Brad Frischkorn
Commercial LED development continues to percolate into niche markets around the world. But fish tanks?
Osaka-based Japanese LED maker Meton Co., Ltd. has been making a living off the trend for the last several years. The 28-year old firm specializes in a range of industrial LED fixtures, including models suitable for underwater and high-moisture environments.
Rather than aquariums, however, most of the firm's clients are farmers who see the benefits of low power consumption, low heat emission, and the increased safety that LEDs bring, says Meton CEO Hitoshi Tatsuno.
"In enclosed areas where livestock such as cattle, pigs, and chickens are kept, moisture levels are not only high, but the buildup of ammonia and methane gases also pose special risks that LEDs are far better at reducing than any other light sources," he says.
Waterproof LEDs have also found a domestic niche in nurseries where high moisture is necessary to grow certain types of edible fungi, such as maitake, shiitake, and other varieties of mushrooms, he adds.
Agricultural uses for LEDs, in fact, may have just begun to be tapped. At Osaka Prefecture University's state-of-the-art GNG City Farm, 13,000 LED modules produce 5,000 leafy green vegetables each day. The facility is seen as a prototype upon which the global growth of urban farms may be based.
For Meton, promotoing LED units in such markets has been the mission for the last four years.
"We started in Kyushu (southern Japan) and have traversed the country up to Tohoku (the northeast). Almost all the major farms in Japan have now switched over to LEDs in some form," says Mr. Tatsuno. "The only unconquered area left is Hokkaido."
Meton's largest 7kg LED unit generates up to 27,600 lumens at 260 watts, and can withstand temperatures ranging from -30C to +50C. An aluminum/polycarbonate cover keeps it insulated from the elements. It sports a waterproof rating of IP65, enough to withstand high-pressure water projected from three meters. The average lifespan is about 50,000 hours.
The problem for manufacturers and sellers, as with all LEDs, is that once installed, little to no maintenance is needed for about 10 years. The built-in longevity has pushed Meton to offer a B2C line of fixtures to complement its B2B business. To this end, decorative indoor and outdoor lighting has shown potential, such as in rural locations, where gardens at scenic ryokan (inns) can be safely illuminated at night using low power, 2-watt lamps with no worries about fog, dew, or rain.
LED technological development is also far from finished. Promising advances in purple LED research may eventually make today's blue LEDs (on which current white light technology is based) obsolete, say some scientists. White light efficiency is higher when converted from purple LEDs, while lighting distribution is more uniform, and color accuracy is higher.
The incentive for such study remains high in Japan, where electricity continues to be expensive in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that forced the shutdown of most of the nation's nuclear reactors. As of 2015, the average price for Japanese power was $0.28 per kilowatt hour (kw/h), at the high end of the global scale. Australia ranked highest at $0.49 kw/h, with Germany at $0.33, the U.S. at $0.18, and China ranking near the cheap end at $0.11, according to data portal Statista.
"If cost savings are good enough, switching into tomorrow's technology might be even wiser," Mr. Tatsuno says. "In 10 years we might see a 10-fold increase in LED power efficiency and even better luminescence."
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