L-Prize Concept Phase Concludes

March 8, 2022 | By: Owen Kavanagh

The first stage of the United States Department of Energy’s Lighting Prize (or L-Prize) competition concluded on Feb. 3, 2022. Four groups were awarded $20,000 each for their Solid-State Lighting (SSL) design concepts and the prototype phase will begin soon. With the first L-prize stage complete, the commercial real estate industry has moved one step closer to the next generation of LED lighting.

The L-Prize

The L-Prize is a contest held by the US DOE to encourage innovation in the lighting industry. The previous L-Prize competition held in 2011 (discussed in this CRE Insight Journal Article) was won by Philips 940 lumen, 10-watt LED bulb. The DOE began a new L-Prize competition in 2021 with three main phases.

  • Phase 1: Concept – The first phase of the 2021 L-Prize competition rewards concept systems that meet energy efficiency, lighting quality, connectivity, and product life cycle requirements that exceed currently available commercial products. Up to 10 entrants win $20,000 for their designs. Four groups won.
  • Phase 2: Prototypes – The second phase of the L-Prize competition seeks technological innovations through product prototypes. Entrants are encouraged to think outside the box and look at novel forms and materials in their designs. Phase 2 has a $2,000,000 prize pool for up to 3 winners. Phase 2 is anticipated to open Feb. 15, 2022, with an anticipated deadline of Dec. 15, 2022. Phase 2 winners will be announced Feb. 2023.
  • Phase 3: Manufacturing & Installation – The third and final phase of the L-Prize competition rewards entrants based on U.S. manufacturing, installations, and additional life cycle and operation considerations. Phase 3 will award up to two entrants from a $10,000,000 prize pool.

The 2021 L-Prize competition is meant to usher in the next generation of LED lighting and has brought a few incredible design concepts to the forefront. Teaming opportunities will start in Phase 2 and will connect researchers and product developers with manufacturing partners, energy service companies, utilities, contractors, and other groups interested in the production and installation of lighting systems meeting L-Prize standards. Entrants do not need to participate in the concept phase to enter the prototype phase.

Four groups won the Phase 1 of the L-Prize, Quarkstar, Orion Energy Systems, Smash the Bulb/Bridgelux, and Papaya. Each winner received $20,000 for their designs.


Operating out of Las Vegas, Nev., QuarkStar sits at the bleeding edge of solid-state lighting. QuarkStar’s founders include the creator of Haitz’s Law, a former CTO of Philips Lighting, and the founder of Strategies in Light. Their L-Prize submission, Project Tango, is an innovative solid-state lighting source built on Surface Mounted Filaments™.

Project Tango uses materials from QuarkStar’s L-Prize partner Nichia to overcome compromises and trade-offs that have previously limited lighting systems. Project Tango features a networked, white-tunable luminaire (a complete electric lighting unit) based on QuarkStar’s Edge-X™ optics with class-defining uniformity and shaping in a networked, ultra-high-efficiency LED. This luminaire uses the Edge-X™ technology to provide 96 percent optical efficiency and light distribution in the smallest size system solution.

Orion Energy Systems

Orion Energy Systems (or Orion) operates out of Jacksonville, Fla., and is an innovator in LED lighting systems. Orion provides LED lighting systems with enhanced optical and thermal performance; ease of installation; IoT controls and systems; ongoing system maintenance and program management; and industry leading energy-efficiency. Their L-Prize submission, the Sustainable and Connected Troffer Retrofit, is designed to retrofit an existing fluorescent luminaire to LED technology in less than two minutes.

Orion’s Sustainable and Connected Troffer Retrofit has an estimated life span of over 50,000 hours at 85 lumens. These luminaires are tunable from 2700 – 6500K (to learn more about lighting quality check out this CRE Insight Journal article) and feature a programable Application Programming Interface (API), 180 lumens per watt (LPW) efficacy, wireless connectivity, and extensive future proofing in its design.

Smash the Bulb/Bridgelux

This Mountain View, Calif. based team is a partnership of startup Smash the Bulb and Bridgelux Inc, a lighting company with offices across the globe. Smash the Bulb and Bridgelux L-Prize submission is the Laterally Symmetric Level-3 Ending for 3D Printing. This concept design works as a stand-alone light source for hidden, non-aesthetic, applications.

Smash the Bulb’s concept utilizes a 3D-printed semi-indirect luminaire concept to deliver high efficacy and lighting quality. This luminaire is built around a high-performance light engine that does not require secondary optics and produces highly uniform light. Its innovative optical design simultaneously reduces loss and mitigates glare. This design features plug and play capabilities for easy configuration and has a guaranteed efficacy of over 160 LPW.


The final Phase 1 L-Prize winner hails from Evanston, Ill. The Papaya team submitted the Papaya Modular Lighting Ecosystem, which is an integrated solution for modular luminaries and includes mounts, controllers, sensors, and software. The Papaya Modular Lighting Ecosystem features an impressive 5,183 lumens per device with brilliant color rendition, tunable color temperature, and a dimmable, low glare, flicker free module. The system produces high-quality light in an open source, future-proof, package.

The Papaya Modular Lighting Ecosystem focuses on a unique community-based approach for its design. All aspects of the system are open source and offer opportunities for a diverse group to innovate in this ecosystem over time. This system has free technical training material and courses, a low cost to entry, and customized community-manufactured accessories.

Impact on CRE

The L-Prize and its ensuing designs will have massive impacts on the commercial real estate industry. Orion’s design could make the switch from fluorescents to LED quicker and easier than what was previously thought possible. QuarkStar’s Project Tango enables high-quality lighting in a tiny package on any mountable surface. Smash the Bulb’s undercarriage lighting could significantly enhance the backlighting in numerous built environments, both for aesthetics and in safety. Papaya’s open source and community driven system will continue to grow and innovate beyond the scope of the L-Prize.

In 2011, the winning Philips LED bulb reshaped commercial lighting. The innovations occurring in today’s L-Prize competition will enhance lighting quality and efficiency well beyond the capabilities of today’s commercially available LEDs.


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