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DoD: We've Seen the Future of Light

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted May 18, 2010

Growing up, I was pretty much your typical American teenager…

I drank, I partied, I chased girls — not always with success, mind you, but I tried.

As you would expect, most of my friends were just the same way.

A typical Saturday night would involve boozing at the home of whoever’s parents were gone away for that weekend. Maybe a party, maybe a get-together, or maybe just a couple of us getting sloshed off the old man’s gin.

And when there was no house available, we’d just hit a local field and do our thing until the cops showed up. Of course, sooner or later, the cops always showed up.

With habits like that, just living to see high school graduation was a feat in and of itself.

We all did it; it was part of growing up, at least for all of us.

All of us, that is, with the exception of my buddy John. He was like our big brother, even though we were all the same age.

John rarely missed our nights out during those years, but in all our little excursions, I never once saw him drunk or out of control.

He was a star athlete and a perfect student, and when all of us were wobbling around, leaning on each other just to maintain balance, he would be walking out in front, making sure that no trouble found us.

He drove when we couldn’t; he negotiated with the state troopers when we were already in the back of the squad car; and when it came to our parents, he could do no wrong.

I lost count how many times John saved our skins — how many times he and he alone kept us alive through our stupidity.

The kid could have gone anywhere, done anything, been anybody… but the day after graduation, when we were — you guessed it, drunk again — he was at the U.S. Navy recruiting office.

John wanted to become a Marine.

And that’s exactly what he did.

He breezed through basic training and something called ‘indoctrination.’ When the rest of us were embarking on our third year of college, he was heading off to Iraq, to fight in the first gulf war.

He was a scout sniper, operating ahead of the front lines with just one other guy working beside him.

Now, I don’t know much about what he did in those few months in 1991, or in the handful of other operations he served in after that…

But God help whoever wound up in his crosshairs. I am almost certain that as records of his service become declassified, his name will be among some of the greatest there were. That’s just the way he was.

Sadly, John and I lost touch for much of this time.

With his deployments, and with my own career and family developing, we grew apart. Years went by, in fact, without me knowing how he was, where he was, or what he was doing…

But all that changed just last week.

In his early 40s now, John is no longer on active duty. After a final tour in Iraq in 2004, he came home for good, and with his choice of posts.

His choice: The Department of Defense — more specifically, the Defense Research Projects Agency, a top secret technology development branch of the DoD known in the inner circles simply as DARPA.

So, as you may expect, when I met John at a bar in Arlington last Wednesday (he’s become a bit of a party animal in his old age and can drink as many as 2 beers a night now), he didn’t have a whole lot to tell me about what he’s been doing.

I know the gist though… Everything you’ve ever seen in sci-fi movies — from lasers to camouflage that makes a man literally invisible, to tissue thin fabric that can stop a rifle bullet — he’s probably seen it all.

Which was why I was especially surprised when he told me what he did.

“LEDs are the new thing man… We’re about to corner the market on them.”

 “You mean those little things they‘re putting into high end car headlights nowadays?” I asked, a bit disappointed.

“Nothing little about them,” he replied. “Two years from now, you’re not gonna see an Edison light bulb anywhere anymore. It’s all going to LEDs.”

“Incandescents,” I clarified. “I just bought a cartload at Sam’s Club. Damn things burn out faster than 80s actors named Corey.”

“Well, they’ve been banned by Congress. By 2012, they’ll be off the shelves.”

“No kidding.” I sighed. Light bulbs? Illegal? Was that even possible?

“No kidding. Congressional ban. Biggest of its kind — ever.”

“I had no idea… ” I said, trying to wrap my mind around the concept.

“What about fluorescents?” I asked, quickly recalling how my own power company sent me a couple of those strange, curly bulbs a couple years back when I complained about my skyrocketing electric bill.

“Forget them.  EPA hates them almost as much as the incandescents. They don’t waste as much power, but the cost of disposal is several times higher. All that Mercury makes them a hazardous material once the glass casings are broken.”

“I don’t get it, why is the DoD into lighting?”

He leaned in a bit closer and whispered. “We’re retrofitting every ship, sub, and patrol boat with them…  They’re so efficient they don’t produce background heat. Makes our subs that much harder to spot underwater. Almost no heat signature.”

“You’re saying that the old bulbs actually made our subs visible… ”

“It’s been a problem for years,” he nodded, sipping his beer.

“Anyway, I know you’d be interested in this stuff. Not too many are. We’re contracting this tiny company to supply us with the LEDs. The contract alone will more than double the company’s size. In a few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the entire market cornered.”

“You mean civilian?”

“You got it,” he nodded. “Flatscreen TVs, computer monitors, brake lights, lamps that don’t affect the temperature in refrigerated display cases… They’re saying it’ll be a $9 billion market by the time incandescents go out for good.”

Was it even possible? I thought to myself… After all, the light bulb’s been around for 130 years…

Well it turns out, for the last 130 years, Edison’s bulbs have been among the worst commercial energy wasters out there.

Just how bad?

Consider this: 98% of the energy you pump into Tom Edison’s old incandescent light bulb is lost to heat. Only 1 watt of every 50 contributes to actual brightness.

LED chart

So maybe John’s little revelation about the submarines does make sense.

It got me to thinking about what he said and this company he was talking about…

Of course, he wouldn’t give me the name of it.

For him, that’s a breach of trust, and trust isn’t something that gets breached — no matter what the potential profits may be.

But he’s John, and that means that deep down inside, he’s still looking out for me.

He gave me just enough details for me to figure it out for myself.

When he said this was a small company, he wasn’t kidding. In fact, with a market cap of right around $26 million, it’s about as small a government contractor as I’ve seen around.

It took me a while to assemble the information, but as I pieced this puzzle together, a very clear image began to emerge…

Just as John told me, this company is on the verge of some major moves that will position it to become a big-time tech player for the next several decades.

Next week, we will be sending readers a full report so they too can find out what John was talking about, and how a DARPA-led $9 billion LED revolution could make millionaires out of strategically-minded private investors in the next 18 months. Keep an eye out for this report in your inbox.

To your wealth,

Brian Hicks
Publisher, Energy and Capital

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