Dim future for fluorescents and metal halides

Dim future for fluorescents and metal halides

Proposed regulatory amendments look to a 2027 phase-out
Monday, February 27, 2023
By Barbara Carss

Fluorescents and metal halides will be further marginalized in the lighting market with pending amendments to Canada’s regulations governing products containing mercury. Proposed new rules, which were posted on Dec. 24, 2022 for 75 days of public consultation, would block sales of fluorescent and metal halide lamps for general lighting purposes by 2027. As well, high-pressure sodium vapour lighting and horticultural fluorescents would be largely unobtainable by 2032.

These moves align with Canada’s commitment as a signatory to the 2017 Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally binding international agreement under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and somewhat lag the schedule for actions in the European Union. Accompanying regulatory analysis estimates the total package of amendments should result in a 775-kilogram reduction in the quantity of mercury released into the environment during the 10 years from 2024 to 2033. That will also entail a ban on mercury-containing catalysts in the manufacture of polyurethanes beginning in 2028.

It’s proposed that the manufacture or import of a range of fluorescent and metal halide lamps would be prohibited as of next January. However, that would come with a three-year transition period in which replacement lamps for existing fixtures could be brought to the market. After that, there would be an additional two years when retailers could  sell inventory they hold in stock.

Although the amendments are termed “proposed”, once posted in the Canada Gazette they are nearing their final form. The current step of the adoption process follows after an earlier public consultation in 2018, which informs the amendments and regulatory analysis.

Mercury is a cumulative and lasting toxin detrimental to human and wildlife reproductive and neurological health. It is a transboundary pollutant that can cause harm in areas beyond its country of origin, and is a particular concern in Arctic regions where measured mercury levels in the environment are three times higher than they were in the 1920s. Concomitantly, the regulatory analysis notes a lack of disposal and waste processing facilities for spent mercury-containing products in remote northern communities, creating increased exposure to risk and more logistical costs and complications for mercury waste handling in those populations.

Enacted in 2014, the regulations initially established maximum thresholds for the mercury content in products such as compact fluorescent lamps, (CFLs), T5, T8 and T12 straight fluorescent lamps and cold cathode tubing for signage, and allowed for their manufacture, importation, distribution and use in Canada in the absence of viable mercury-free alternatives. That has now changed due to subsequent advancements in the performance, price competitiveness and availability of LED lighting.

“The transition from mercury-containing lamps to LED technology has accelerated in the past few years,” the regulatory analysis states. “The Department’s (Environment) analysis of benefits and costs estimates that the benefits to the environment and the economy of the conversion to mercury-free alternatives are greater than the costs.”

Fixture replacement not factored in cost/benefits analysis

Notably, LEDs promise improved energy performance projected to result in a 4.8 per cent reduction in Canada-wide energy usage and $3.87 billion in cost savings to 2033. That would further equate to a 4.7 megatonne (MT) reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, saving $237.4 million on carbon costs for the same period.

Linda Conejo, business development manager with the lighting products and services company, LEDVANCE Ltd., estimates that recent annual sales of “traditional” lighting products have been falling by 25 to 30 per cent, while LEDs gain market share. She credits energy efficiency incentive programs for much of that momentum in the commercial real estate sector and suggests that the early waves of LED adopters have been largely focused on energy savings and reducing GHG emissions. At the same time, given previous experience with phase-outs of incandescent and halogen bulbs, customers have been monitoring the possibility that more regulatory dictates could be afoot.

“There hasn’t been an official push on fluorescents, but people have already taken that initiative to start replacing their lights,” Conejo observes. “Although it’s technically still a proposal right now, a 2024 start-date for a phase-out will push everyone to start doing this sooner than later.”

The government’s cost/benefits analysis focuses on the upfront costs, lifespan and energy performance of mercury-containing lamps versus the LED alternatives and does not factor in replacement of fixtures, citing an inability to accurately estimate the number of replacements that would be required or the ensuing cost of that equipment. “Most mercury-containing lamps can be easily substituted for LED lamps; however, some lamp fixtures could need to be replaced to accommodate the switch to LEDs,” the regulatory analysis acknowledges.

Decorative fixtures and other niche lighting applications in commercial buildings will likely pose more complications. For example, the hospitality sector’s widespread use of dimming systems presents a challenge since older systems won’t be compatible with LEDs.

“There will be many fixtures that will have to be replaced,” Conejo says. “Not so much for fluorescents because we do have a lot of the tubes that you can switch out, but a lot of the metal halides will definitely need upgrading. Especially in commercial applications, they’re not a typical bulb — some of them are in very tight spaces so they’re very small. We don’t have direct LED replacements for them.”

Nevertheless, other market trends could be considered in cost assumptions. Separate from energy costs, retailers relying on increasingly antiquated T12 lamps for display case lighting have seen the price of that product nearly triple in the past two years. As well, supply shortages and associated cost increases are foreseen when EU-based manufacturing of fluorescents ceases in 2024.

“So there’ll be some pushback on having to change the fixtures, but there are other factors that are pushing people to look at doing it sooner rather than later,” Conejo muses.

Absence of mercury-free alternatives acknowledged

The proposed amendments would also reduce the allowed mercury content for three types of lighting products, beginning next January, for the remainder of time they’re available. Although, new cold cathode tubing applications for neon is designated for prohibition, there would be continued leeway to repair neon signs installed prior to Dec. 31, 2023 if they are deemed to have historical value.

Specialty fluorescent lamps used for air and water “purification, sterilization, sanitation, treatment or disinfection” will continue to be permitted with no maximum threshold on the quantity of mercury they can contain. Nor have limits been placed on mercury content in fluorescent lamps used in the growing of plants even though phase-out start and end dates of Dec. 31, 2028 and Dec. 31, 2031 have been specified.

The latter aligns with expected improving market competitiveness of mercury-free options, such as the LED greenhouse lighting that the Ontario government is targeting in its new energy efficiency incentive programs promised for this year. Conversely, there is no prohibition date for automobile head lamps containing mercury — Conejo notes that incandescent and halogen bulbs still predominate in this market segment — but there is a regulated maximum limit of 10 milligrams (mg) per lamp.

“The Department has researched and assessed technologically and economically viable alternatives to exempted mercury-containing products and the Government intends to keep removing exemptions where mercury-free alternatives are available on the Canadian market,” the regulatory analysis advises.

The proposed amendments will be open for public comment until March 9.

One thought on “Dim future for fluorescents and metal halides

  1. As a multi unit property owner, I have a concern that the lighting fixture industry is not keeping up with the future needs. We recently upgraded our 3 storey building with 80 – 90 LED fixtures to replace PL Twin Tube florescent fixtures. The benefit of the PL tubes was the unplug & plug-in convenience for maintenance. My concern is that in common areas requiring 24/7 lighting, the 50,000 hour LED fixtures will only last 5 years maximum and the entire fixture must be replaced at end of life. What if that same style fixture is not available. Will it be necessary to replace all fixtures in the entire building for consistency. I have checked with a few fixture manufacturers and replacement LED strips and/or ballasts are not available to rebuild fixtures. The entire fixture must be replaced. Industry must be required to provide LED strip and/or Ballast replacements for fixtures same as the lighting tubes that are being phased out. This can be done.

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