As a general rule, the University of Michigan (U-M) uses fluorescent light fixtures to provide illumination in all of its buildings. In the past, the most common type of ballast in a fluorescent fixture was an electromagnetic design that operated at 60 Hz. Fluorescent light fixtures were cheap and reliable, but had several drawbacks including noise, light flicker, and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) content. Because of the drawbacks, the U-M has made a commitment to replace worn out electromagnetic ballasts with newer high-efficiency electronic ballasts.


Applicable Regulations
40 CFR Part 761.

29 CFR 1910.1200.


Overview of Procedure
A ballast is the device needed to energize fluorescent lamps during operation. In all fluorescent lighting systems, the ballast provides the proper voltage to start the lamp and then regulates the electric current flowing through the lamp to stabilize output.

For several years, U-M Plant electricians have been installing an electronic ballast when an electromagnetic ballast fails. However, the clear advantage of electronic ballasts has led to the decision in some buildings to make a complete change-over, even though the existing electromagnetic ballasts may still be functioning.


Waste Minimization Procedure
Electromagnetic ballasts to be recycled are removed and placed into Department of Transportation (DOT) approved steel drums for containment prior to recycling. When a drum is 75 percent full, the U-M Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health is called to transport the ballasts to the transfer facility. The ballasts are then shipped to the recycling center by a qualified vendor.

If a PCB-containing ballast is leaking at the time of removal, the ballast is wrapped and sealed in a heavy gauge plastic bag. As required by the recycling facility, the wrapped leaking ballasts are placed in separate containers to segregate leaking ballasts from non-leaking ballasts. If the shroud is grossly contaminated, it is removed and disposed of with the ballast. If any of the surrounding area is contaminated, it is wiped with solvent, followed by washing with soap and water. All solvent soaked rags used during the clean-up procedures are disposed of along with the ballasts as contaminated material.


Known Limitations
None known.


Safety & Health Precautions/Personal Protective Equipment
Follow all applicable safety and health protocols and regulations as established by your institution.


PCBs are a group of chlorinated hydrocarbons used as insulators in ballasts, as well as in a wide variety of manufacturing processes. PCBs may enter the environment through leakage from electrical equipment, spills, or leaching from municipal landfills. PCBs are persistent in the environment, and present in soil and water due to historical applications and the large quantities used. For obvious reasons, elimination and proper management of PCB-containing ballasts presents a reduced threat to the environment.

The following table summarizes some of the benefits of using the newer electronic ballasts versus the older electromagnetic type:

  Electromagnetic Ballast Electronic Ballast
Heat Wastes internal energy which generates about 30 C more heat. Reduced heatinternal losses less than 8 watts results in 5-10 percent less air conditioning costs.
Light Flicker 60 Hz frequency causes light flicker levels of 30 percent or higher; can cause headaches and nausea. 20,000-25,000 Hz produces virtually no detectable flicker; does not cause headaches and nausea.
Noise Vibration of electromagnetic field causes humming noise. No audible noise, less distracting.
Weight Heavy components coated in heavy protective material. Weighs about half as much as electromagnetic type.
Energy Requires 30-40 percent more input for the same amount of light output. Requires 30-40 percent less input for the same amount of light output.


None known.


Project Related Costs
The following comparison illustrates the expected energy savings from using the newer electronic ballast:

One electromagnetic ballast operating two 4 - foot 34 watt T12 lamps requires 83 watts input. One electronic ballast operating two 4 - foot 32 watt T12 lamps requires 60 watts input. This represents a 27 percent energy savings.