LED linear tubes have improved vastly over the past seven years. Recently, a newly patented material for tube bodies went into production and will rapidly alter the LED tube market. This new material is called “nano-plastic”. The LED tubes manufactured using this material are referred to as “nano tubes”.
Nano-plastic is the world's hardest plastic nano-composite material. It is strong enough to be used in missiles and airplanes. Despite being the world’s hardest plastic nano-composite, the reinforcement material constitutes only 1% (by weight) of the composite, keeping the material extremely light for LED lighting applications.
It was discovered by a team of five Bangalore researchers headed by C.N.R. Rao, scientific advisor to the Prime Minister of India. The material was created by reinforcing ordinary plastic with diamonds that are invisible to the naked eye. It is essentially a sheet of layered carbon and tiny carbon cylinders.
To reinforce the polymer they used nano materials, which are smaller than the width of a single strand of human hair. (Note: one nano-meter is one-millionth of a millimeter.)
“The mechanical properties like hardness and stiffness (after molding) improved by as much as 400% compared to those obtained with single reinforcements,” the researchers reported in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences. This means that the nano tube is practically indestructible, especially as compared to the already robust polycarbonate and aluminum (PC+aluminum) materials used in most LED tubes today.
While there are many practical applications for such an amazing material, the LED lighting industry is beginning to see the immense advantage of nano-plastics over PC+aluminum (and even glass) as materials for LED tube lights. Here are the top four advantages of nano-plastic LED tube lights.
#1 Better Light Output
Polycarbonate lenses have been the standard in LED tubes since the beginning. LEDs behind PC lenses produce strong, harsh light. To combat the harshness, many manufacturers offer frosted lenses to soften the light. That works, but frosted lenses reduce lumen output. Even though they produce maximum lumens, most users do not want clear lens LED tubes due to the harshness and glare of the diodes as seen through the PC lens.
Nano-plastic spreads light more evenly and softens the LED light. This reduces glare and softens the light without reducing lumen output. In addition, nano-plastic material allows for the beam angle of the light to be more evenly spread, reducing glare and causing the light to appear softer. Softer light does not mean less lumen output. In fact, the luminous efficiency of nano-plastic light can reach 92%. That means that with the same LED chips and wattage, nano-plastic tubes provide 5-12% more lumens than tubes with PC lenses.
Furthermore, due to the lack of need for a heat sink (see #4 below), nano tubes have a 310° beam angle, providing a fuller, more even light dispersement in traditional retrofitted fixtures. To the untrained eye, the light emitted from a nano tube is difficult to distinguish between traditional fluorescent tubes.
#2 Better Strength
It is estimated that only 30% of PC-based LED products in the market guarantee their tubes will not bend out of shape after long working hours in high temperatures. There are a lot of LED tube lights that were installed in the past five to ten years that are now sagging in the middle. Too much sag and the tube can drop out of an open fixture onto the floor, allowing for the possibility of injury to anyone below.
In contrast, nano-plastic does not bend out of shape under similar conditions due to the low rate of thermal expansion. Nano-plastic’s bending endurance is two times better than normal PC lenses. For example, nano-plastic tubes can survive a 6.5’ drop without breaking.
#3 Better Aesthetics
Over time, most plastic can yellow and become brittle. PC tubes have been an excellent choice for LED tubes because they are not as susceptible to discoloration as normal plastics. However, PC is still susceptible to discoloration in high heat environments.
Nano-plastic LED tubes have excellent performance under extreme temperatures and oxidation tests. They remain the same for long periods of time. Not only that, but they have been shown not to discolor even 1% in longevity tests. The light transmitted through the nano-plastic stays constant throughout the useful life of the LED tube.
#4 Better Heat Dissipation
Normal PC lenses are approximately 0.8-1mm thick. Heat dissipation in a PC-based tube is completely dependent on how much aluminum is integrated by the manufacturer. By comparison, a nano-plastic linear tube is only 0.4-0.5mm thick. Less material thickness on the lens means less heat inside the tube. Less heat means less opportunity for the LED diodes to malfunction due to heat. Not only that, but nano-plastic material has super thermal conductivity, eliminating the need for aluminum as a heat sink.
Amazingly, nano-plastic’s coefficient of thermal expansion is lower than copper. It is worth noting that copper has a lower coefficient of thermal expansion than aluminum, yet aluminum was picked as the material of choice by nearly every single LED tube manufacture for heat displacement. Why? The cost of copper is too high for it to make sense financially even though it would perform better.
Nano-plastic is ideal for LED tube construction if for no other reason than to eliminate the need of sourcing and manufacturing expensive aluminum heat sinks. PC+aluminum tubes operate at a much cooler temperature than traditional fluorescent tubes and ballasts. But nano-plastic operates at a dramatically cooler temperature than even PC+aluminum tubes. Cooler temperatures mean longer life and higher lumen output over the life of the tube.
Nano-plastic LED tubes have already been tested and sold by many top brands of LED light manufacturers. However, due to the large quantities of PC+aluminum tubes that have been manufactured and placed in warehouses ready to sell, it is not financially advantageous for those companies to promote nano-plastic for fear of the chance that they may be stuck with millions of dollars in inventory of an inferior product.
On another note, some manufacturers have started to use glass instead of PC+aluminum as a way to cut manufacturing costs. Glass is much cheaper than PC+aluminum, but doesn’t dissipate heat nearly as well. Perhaps the best feature of the new nano-plastic material it that is about the same price as glass and is 15-20% cheaper to manufacture than the current PC+aluminum LED tubes.
As with all technology advancement and improvement, the customer is the winner. The technology becomes cheaper to buy, performs better, and lasts longer than previous generations. PC+aluminum LED tubes have had their day in the spotlight and have performed admirably. Nano-plastic LED tubes are the new standard and will be the #1 choice of high-quality LED tube manufacturers until the next big thing arrives.
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Hardest Nano-plastic Is Also Lightest. (2009, July 28). Retrieved June 29, 2017, from http://www.deccanherald.com/content/16491/hardest-nano-plastic-lightest.html
Ma, R. (2016, April 26). Nano-plastic T8 LED Tubes. Retrieved June 29, 2017, from http://www.seniorled.com/nano-plastic-t8-led-tubes/