Green lighting

Sep 19, 2008

An Electrical Engineering senior design class at Kettering University took on the challenge of helping Flint landmark, The Whiting, with its green initiatives.

A “green” lighting revolution will happen over the next few years, according to Dr. Doug Melton, associate professor of Electrical Engineering, and Kettering University students will have had an opportunity to be in the vanguard, developing new solid-state lighting electronic systems based on recent advances in high brightness LED's for The Whiting, in Flint’s Cultural Center.

Melton predicts the boom in compact fluorescent light bulbs will be replaced by more efficient and environmentally friendly LED light bulbs – currently in development by leading lighting manufacturers.

Enter The Whiting, looking for help in developing ways to make the 2,043 seat theater greener and give it a smaller environmental footprint. Melton’s Senior Design Project class, or what is commonly known on campus as a capstone class, was approached for help with greening the lighting technology by Linda Moxam, director of Development for the Flint Cultural Center Corporation.

“In professional theater there is a movement to go green and become more environmentally friendly,” said Wendy Fournier, Advertising and Promotions manager for The Whiting. “We are currently in the process of changing every light bulb in the building to more energy efficient bulbs,” she said, adding that efforts are also being made to use more environmentally friendly cleaning products and recycle plastic and cardboard. The Whiting is a performance venue featuring regional, national, and international performing artists and is host to the Flint Symphony Orchestra.

“We though it would be a great collaboration to work with Kettering on the footprint of our new lighting plan,” said Fournier. While compact fluorescents have recently been seen as a solution for energy efficient lighting, Melton and his capstone class recognized that the (light)wave of the future is LED.

“Fluorescents actually pose more environmental problems than they solve,” said Melton. “They contain mercury and phosphor, which are environmentally unfriendly when they enter the waste stream, and they require high voltage, which create electro-magnetic compatibility problems,” he explained.

LED lighting is more environmentally friendly from a standpoint of waste and toxicity and more energy efficient, according to Melton. The energy efficiency of a light bulb is measured in lumens (lm) per watt. A 100watt incandescent light bulb typically casts 17 lm/watt, a compact fluorescent casts 40-60 lm/watt, and a state-of-the-art LED casts 130 lm/watt.

With this in mind, Melton’s capstone class tackled what seemed to be a very large, rather undefined project. “We had to figure out the different pieces of a lighting project of this scale and identify how to use The Whiting as a hub,” said Melton.

“Most senior design projects are internal and smaller in scope,” Melton said, “we don’t have a history of interacting with industry for a capstone project. This project had the big picture in mind and offered us an opportunity to work with the community and industry from an educational standpoint.”

Class members determined their project would include an energy study – counting light bulbs and wattage, analyzing energy costs, and a lighting study – understanding how The Whiting is currently lit and how to change the lighting and preserve the look of the theatre. “A lot of theaters are going to a modern look, but preserving the older styles does not preclude using LED lighting,” said Melton.

The class broke into teams to address various aspects of the project more efficiently. They looked at the light levels in a variety of spaces, measuring color. “Light color has a lot to do with perception,” said Melton. “We needed hand-held chromaticity meters which run about $3000 per meter.”

The price was prohibitive for a student project, however, Konica/Minolta loaned the group a meter to measure light levels in the house, lobby and backstage areas of The Whiting. They were then able to use the LUX (lumens per meter) squared to determine the brightness and color of lighting in the various areas. The group collaborated with the Kettering Physics Department to help understand how light is measured.

“I am amazed at how much color and color perception have infused this project,” Melton said. “The industry partner we are working with has been able to customize their components in terms of color temperature,” he said. “People involved in theater are very concerned with color temperature. LEDs also provide new possibilities for creating rich colors for effects or washing a wall with color,” he added.

“The company our capstone group worked with, OSRAM Opto Semiconductors Inc. of Northville, Mich., gave our students a seminar on the new LED technology for this project,” said Melton.

OSRAM Opto Semiconductors Inc., a Kettering co-op partner, is part of OSRAM GmbH, Germany, one of the world's leading lighting manufacturers, and a member of the Siemens international family of companies (on the web at

OSRAM provides LED products with a wide range of color temperatures to achieve nearly any color white lighting from cool white to warm white.

“For instance, the yellow color people like lamps to cast is 3500 kelvin, while sunlight is a little cooler at 5000 kelvin. The higher the color temperature number the cooler the light color, he explained. Kelvin is used to measure the unit increment of thermodynamic temperature.

The second part of the project was to design and construct a solid state LED luminaire (light fixture) prototype and the final part of the project was the application and installation of a light fixture. The group installed their prototype in The Lamb of God Fellowship Church to pilot their LED lighting design.

“This was a good project for our students because it got us outside the University’s walls,” said Melton, “and it required more front-end work that any other senior design project has,” he added, referring to the research and analysis needed prior to designing a prototype.

Not only did the group visit The Whiting multiple times, they also visited DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids, Mich., a state-of-the-art performance venue with LED bar lighting throughout, and the church where they installed the prototype, where the students had to determine the technical parameters of the application needs for that venue.  In addition, some of the students met with the exhibit director for the Alfred P. Sloan Museum in Flint to learn about how public venues are developed. All of this background research happened before the students began to develop their actual lighting project.

Melton credits OSRAM with making the design a reality. “OSRAM has been generous in supplying us with parts to use,” he said, “They have been very generous.” The church hosting the lighting prototype and The Whiting also helped to support the project financially, he said.

The final lighting solution developed by the students is a 16-foot LED installation that will wash a wall with color during musical presentations and services at the church.

Because of the community and industry collaborations and real-world applications involved in the project, Melton said he would like to work with The Whiting again with the fall term capstone class. “This is a great opportunity for the students to use Electrical Engineering in ways they don’t normally think of,” he said.

Written by Dawn Hibbard