Halogen lamps are incandescent lamp with a tungsten filament contained within an inert gas and a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine. The combination of the halogen gas and the tungsten filament (seen left of approx 5mm) produces a chemical reaction known as a halogen cycle that increases the lifetime of the bulb and prevents its darkening by redepositing tungsten from the inside of the bulb back onto the filament. The halogen lamp can operate its filament at a higher temperature than a standard gas filled lamp of similar power without loss of operating life. This gives it a higher efficacy (10–30 lm/W). It also gives light of a higher color temperature compared to a non-halogen incandescent lamp. Alternatively, it may be designed to have perhaps twice the life with the same or slightly higher efficacy. Because of their smaller size, halogen lamps can advantageously be used with optical systems that are more efficient.
The function of the halogen is to set up a reversible chemical reaction with the tungsten evaporating from the filament. In ordinary incandescent lamps, this tungsten is mostly deposited on the bulb. The halogen cycle keeps the bulb clean and the light output remains almost constant throughout life. At moderate temperatures the halogen reacts with the evaporating tungsten, the halide formed being moved around in the inert gas filling. At some time it will reach higher temperature regions, where it dissociates, releasing tungsten and freeing the halogen to repeat the process. In order for the reaction to operate, the overall bulb temperature must be higher than in conventional incandescent lamps. The bulb must be made of fused silica (quartz) or a high melting point glass (such as aluminosilicate glass). Quartz being very strong, the gas pressure can be higher, which reduces the rate of evaporation of the filament, permitting it to run a higher temperature (and so 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. Regeneration of the filament is also possible with fluorine, but its chemical activity is so great that other parts of the lamp are attacked.
The lamp is equipped with an open tube that permits the halogen gas to be withdrawn and re-introduced as desired. When switched on, the filament is operating in a vacuum. After a few seconds the bulb is observed to blacken; this is caused by tungsten atoms that evaporate from the filament and condense on the bulb wall. Once completely blackened, the halogen gas is re-introduced back into the bulb. It quickly begins to react with the tungsten that has been deposited on the relatively cold bulb wall, and transports it back to the hot filament. The result is that the wall is returned to its original clarity. In this experiment the concentration of halogen gas used is higher than normal so as to achieve the rapid clean-up. In a standard lamp, the speed of the halogen regenerative cycle is much slower, but it operates continuously to prevent the bulb from blackening and thus maintaining a constant light output during lamp life.
Quartz Iodine Lamps, which used elemental iodine, were the first commercial halogen lamps, and were launched in 1959. Quite soon, bromine was found to have advantages, but was not used in elemental form. Certain hydrocarbon bromine compounds gave good results. The first lamps used only tungsten for filament supports, but in some designs it has been possible to use molybdenum — an example being the molybdenum shield in the H4 twin filament headlight for the European Asymmetric Passing Beam. 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. 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.
For a fixed power and life, the 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. The range of 50 mm diameter reflector lamps of 20 W to 50 W were originally conceived for the projection of film, but are now widely used for display lighting and in the home. More recently, wider beam versions are available designed for direct use on supply voltages of 120 or 230 V.