Halogen lamp

A halogen lamp operating in its fitting with the protecting glass removed
A Halogen lamp behind a round UV filter. A separate filter is included with some halogen light fixtures to remove UV light.
Xenon Halogen Lamp (105 W) for replacement purposes with an E27 screw base
A close-up of a halogen lamp

A halogen lamp, also known as a tungsten halogen, quartz-halogen or quartz iodine lamp, is an incandescent lamp that has a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine added. The combination of the halogen gas and the tungsten filament produces a halogen cycle chemical reaction which redeposits evaporated tungsten back onto the filament, increasing its life and maintaining the clarity of the envelope. Because of this, a halogen lamp can be operated at a higher temperature than a standard gas-filled lamp of similar power and operating life, producing light of a higher luminous efficacy and color temperature. The small size of halogen lamps permits their use in compact optical systems for projectors and illumination.


A carbon filament lamp using chlorine to prevent darkening of the envelope was patented[1] in 1882, and chlorine-filled "NoVak" lamps were marketed in 1892.[2] The use of iodine was proposed in a 1933 patent,[3] which also described the cyclic redeposition of tungsten back onto the filament. In 1959, General Electric patented[3] a practical lamp using iodine.[4]

Halogen cycle

In ordinary incandescent lamps, evaporated tungsten mostly deposits onto the inner surface of the bulb, causing the bulb to blacken and the filament to grow increasingly weak until it eventually breaks. The presence of the halogen, however, sets up a reversible chemical reaction cycle with this evaporated tungsten. The halogen cycle keeps the bulb clean and causes the light output to remain almost constant throughout the bulb's life. At moderate temperatures the halogen reacts with the evaporating tungsten, the halide formed being moved around in the inert gas filling. At some point, however, it will reach higher temperature regions within the bulb where it then dissociates, releasing tungsten back onto the filament and freeing the halogen to repeat the process. The overall bulb envelope temperature must be significantly higher than in conventional incandescent lamps for this reaction to succeed, however: it is only at temperatures of above 250 °C (482 °F) on the inside of the glass envelope that the halogen vapor can combine with the tungsten and return it to the filament rather than the tungsten becoming deposited on the glass.[5] A 300 watt tubular halogen bulb operated at full power quickly reaches a temperature of about 540 °C (1,004 °F), while a 500 watt regular incandescent bulb operates at only 180 °C (356 °F) and a 75 watt regular incandescent at only 130 °C (266 °F).[6]

The bulb must be made of fused silica (quartz) or a high-melting-point glass (such as aluminosilicate glass). Since quartz is very strong, the gas pressure can be higher,[7] which reduces the rate of evaporation of the filament, permitting it to run a higher temperature (and so luminous efficacy) for the same average life. The tungsten released in hotter regions does not generally redeposit where it came from, so the hotter parts of the filament eventually thin out and fail.

Quartz iodine lamps, using elemental iodine, were the first commercial halogen lamps launched by GE in 1959.[8][9] Quite soon, bromine was found to have advantages, but was not used in elemental form. Certain hydrocarbon bromine compounds gave good results.[10][11] Regeneration of the filament is also possible with fluorine, but its chemical reactivity is so great that other parts of the lamp are attacked.[10][12] The halogen is normally mixed with a noble gas, often krypton or xenon.[13] The first lamps used only tungsten for filament supports, but some designs use molybdenum – an example being the molybdenum shield in the H4 twin filament headlight for the European Asymmetric Passing Beam.

For a fixed power and life, the luminous efficacy of all incandescent lamps is greatest at a particular design voltage. Halogen lamps made for 12 to 24 volt operation have good light outputs, and the very compact filaments are particularly beneficial for optical control (see picture). The ranges of multifaceted reflector "MR" lamps of 20–50 watts were originally conceived for the projection of 8 mm film, but are now widely used for display lighting and in the home. More recently, wider beam versions have become available designed for direct use on supply voltages of 120 or 230 V.

Effect of voltage on performance

Tungsten halogen lamps behave in a similar manner to other incandescent lamps when run on a different voltage. However the light output is reported as proportional to , and the luminous efficacy proportional to .[14] The normal relationship regarding the lifetime is that it is proportional to . For example, a bulb operated at 5% higher than its design voltage would produce about 15% more light, and the luminous efficacy would be about 6.5% higher, but would be expected to have only half the rated life.

Halogen lamps are manufactured with enough halogen to match the rate of tungsten evaporation at their design voltage. Increasing the applied voltage increases the rate of evaporation, so at some point there may be insufficient halogen and the lamp goes black. Over-voltage operation is not generally recommended. With a reduced voltage the evaporation is lower and there may be too much halogen, which can lead to abnormal failure. At much lower voltages, the bulb temperature may be too low to support the halogen cycle, but by this time the evaporation rate is too low for the bulb to blacken significantly. There are many situations where halogen lamps are dimmed successfully. However, lamp life may not be extended as much as predicted. The life span on dimming depends on lamp construction, the halogen additive used and whether dimming is normally expected for this type.


A technical diagram depicting the power of a halogen light at various wavelengths. An overlay of the visible light spectrum can be seen along the left side.

Like all incandescent light bulbs, a halogen lamp produces a continuous spectrum of light, from near ultraviolet to deep into the infrared.[15] Since the lamp filament can operate at a higher temperature than a non-halogen lamp, the spectrum is shifted toward blue, producing light with a higher effective color temperature and higher power efficiency. This makes halogen lamps the only option for consumer light source with Black-body radiation spectrum similar to that of the sun and most suitable for the eyes. Alternatively, multi-component glasses can be used, which have a natural UV-block. These glasses belong to the family of the aluminosilicate-glasses.

High temperature filaments emit some energy in the UV region. Small amounts of other elements can be mixed into the quartz, so that the doped quartz (or selective optical coating) blocks harmful UV radiation. Hard glass blocks UV and has been used extensively for the bulbs of car headlights.[16] Alternatively, the halogen lamp can be mounted inside an outer bulb, similar to an ordinary incandescent lamp, which also reduces the risks from the high bulb temperature. Undoped quartz halogen lamps are used in some scientific, medical and dental instruments as a UV-B source.


A burned out halogen lamp

Halogen lamps get hotter than regular incandescent lamps because the heat is concentrated on a smaller envelope surface, and because the surface is closer to the filament. This high temperature is essential to their operation. Because the halogen lamp operates at very high temperatures, it can pose fire and burn hazards. In Australia, numerous house fires each year are attributed to ceiling-mounted halogen downlights.[17][18] The Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services recommends that home owners consider instead using compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diode lamps because they produce less heat.[19] Some safety codes now require halogen bulbs to be protected by a grid or grille, especially for high power (1–2 kW) bulbs used in theatre, or by the glass and metal housing of the fixture to prevent ignition of draperies or flammable objects in contact with the lamp.

To reduce unintentional ultraviolet (UV) exposure, and to contain hot bulb fragments in the event of explosive bulb failure, general-purpose lamps usually have a UV-absorbing glass filter over or around the bulb. Alternatively, lamp bulbs may be doped or coated to filter out the UV radiation. With adequate filtering, a halogen lamp exposes users to less UV than a standard incandescent lamp producing the same effective level of illumination without filtering.

Any surface contamination, notably the oil from human fingertips, can damage the quartz envelope when it is heated. Contaminants will create a hot spot on the bulb surface when the lamp is turned on. This extreme, localized heat causes the quartz to change from its vitreous form into a weaker, crystalline form that leaks gas. This weakening may also cause the bulb to form a bubble, weakening it and leading to its explosion.[20]


Medical halogen penlight to observe pupillary light reflex

Halogen headlamps are used in many automobiles. Halogen floodlights for outdoor lighting systems as well as for watercraft are also manufactured for commercial and recreational use. They are now also used in desktop lamps.

Tungsten-halogen lamps are frequently used as a near-infrared light source in Infrared spectroscopy.

Halogen lamps were used on the Times Square Ball from 1999 to 2006. However, from 2007 onwards, the halogen lamps were replaced with LED lights, both to reduce electrical costs, and due to the much longer potential lifespan (about ten times longer for LED over incandescent). The year numerals that light up when the ball reaches the bottom used halogen lighting for the last time for the 2009 ball drop. It was announced on the Times Square website that the year numerals for the 2010 ball drop would use LED lights.[21]


A close-up of a tungsten filament of a halogen car lamp after several hundred hours of use
Main article: Automotive lamp types

Tungsten-halogen lamps have been commonly used as the light sources in automobile headlamps, but are increasing being replaced by Xenon and LED lights.



Halogen lamps are the heating-elements in halogen ovens.

Home use

Halogen multifaceted reflector bulbs are widely available. The most common format is MR16, which is available in 10–50 W power ratings (150–800 lumens).[22] Low voltage lamps use the MR16 and similar bi-pin bases, whereas mains voltage lamps use the same caps as normal mains tungsten filament lamps, or a special GU10/GZ10 base. The GU10/GZ10 bases are shaped to prevent dichroic reflector lamps being used in luminaires intended for aluminised reflector lamps, which could cause overheating of the fitting. Higher efficiency LED versions of all of these lamps are now available, but these have widely varying light output and quality.

Tubular lamps with electrical contacts at each end are now being used in standalone lamps and household fixtures. These come in various lengths and wattages (50–300 W).

Stage lighting

Tungsten halogen lamps are used in the majority of theatrical and studio (film and television) fixtures, including Ellipsoidal reflector spotlights, Source Four, and Fresnels. PAR Cans are also predominately tungsten halogen.


Projection lamps are used in motion-picture and slide projectors for homes and small office or school use. The compact size of the halogen lamp permits a reasonable size for portable projectors, although heat-absorbing filters must be placed between the lamp and the film to prevent melting. Halogen lamps are sometimes used for inspection lights and microscope stage illuminators. Halogen lamps were used for early flat-screen LCD backlighting, but other types of lamps are now used.


Halogen lamps do not contain any mercury. General Electric claims that none of the materials making up their halogen lamps would cause the lamps to be classified as hazardous waste.[23]

See also


  1. US 254780
  2. Harold Wallace A Different Kind of Chemistry: A History of Tungsten Halogen Lamps, IEEE Industry Applications Magazine Nov/Dec 2001, p. 11
  3. 1 2 US 2883571
  4. Raymond Kane, Heinz Sell Revolution in lamps: a chronicle of 50 years of progress (2nd ed.), The Fairmont Press, Inc. 2001 ISBN 0-88173-378-4 page 75
  5. Robert Wolke (29 July 2009). What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions. Random House. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-307-56847-2.
  6. Fire and Life-Safety Group. "Torchiere Halogen Lamps and Plastic Shades - Policies and Procedures". University of Colorado Boulder.
  7. Some lamps have as much as 15 times atmospheric pressure when cold, and some lamps increase pressure five-fold at operating temperature. Kane and Sell 2001, page 76–77
  8. Zubler and Mosby Illuminating Engineering 1959 54.734
  9. http://home.frognet.net/~ejcov/newhalogen.html
  10. 1 2 Burgin and Edwards Lighting Research and Technology 1970 2.2. 95–108
  11. T'Jampens and van der Weijer Philips Technical Review 1966 27.173
  12. Schroder Philips Technical Review 1965 26.116
  13. Häussinger, Peter; Glatthaar, Reinhard; Rhode, Wilhelm; Kick, Helmut; Benkmann, Christian; Weber, Josef; Wunschel, Hans-Jörg; Stenke, Viktor; Leicht, Edith; Stenger, Hermann (2002). "Noble gases". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Wiley. doi:10.1002/14356007.a17_485.
  14. Neumann Lichtechnik 1969 21 6 63A
  15. Tungsten-halogen lamp information at Karl Zeiss Online Campus site (accessed Nov. 2 2010)
  16. Burgin Lighting Research and Technology 1984 16. 2 71
  17. Thousands at risk from halogen-light death traps at The Sunday Age site (accessed 22 Dec. 2012)
  18. Halogen down light fire safety at Fire and Rescue NSW site (accessed 22 Dec. 2012)
  19. Downlights at Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services site (accessed 22 Dec. 2012)
  20. Kremer, Jonathan Z."Types of Light Bulbs and Their Uses" Megavolt, section "Halogen", Accessed May 26, 2011.
  21. "Times Square Alliance – New Year's Eve – 2010 Widgets".
  22. "Replace Inefficient MR16 Halogen Lamps with LEDs". Maxim. September 25, 2007.
  23. http://www.geconsumerandindustrial.com/environmentalinfo/documents/msds/msds_quartzline_lamps.pdf General Electricl Lamp Material Information Sheet
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