Understanding UV-LED and its applications02.06.2021

UV-LED blog

The coronavirus outbreak saw increased awareness by healthcare institutions and governments to improve how they disinfect public areas. 

Widely used for decades, UV disinfection technology proved excellent in combating the COVID-19 virus. 

Safer, cheaper and more effective UV-LEDs replaced older UV lamps. Meaning that manufacturers and companies focussed their attention on producing UV-LED technology solutions to disinfect offices, schools, homes and health care institutions. 

The increase in new UV-LED technology solutions meant increased demand for their components for LED suppliers. The UV-LED market began to grow at a phenomenal rate. 

In 2008, the LED market was worth around US$20 million in 2008.

Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UV-C LED industry grew from US$144 million in 2019, when the outbreak occurred, to double in 2020 and is expected to reach US$2.5 billion in 2025.

But how are UV-LED technology solutions applied to devices and everyday applications?

UV-LED applications

UV-LED type devices have been available since the late 1990s. 

These LEDs have been historically used in applications including counterfeit detection or validation (currency, driver’s licence, documents) and forensics, to name a few examples.

The power output requirements for these applications are low, and the actual wavelengths used were in the 390 nm – 420 nm range. 

Now, the current UV-LEDs in the market consist of products with UV light ranging from approximately 225nm – 400nm. 

Originally UV-A was used, as this was the least hazardous to humans and derived from the higher wavelengths on the UV light spectrum. One of the most popular products was UV germicidal lamps, used mainly for industrial and commercial uses for disinfection.

When LEDs for UV-C were created and safeguarded for human use, manufacturers created LED products that were inexpensive and readily available. More UV LED technology solutions and UV based products, including wearable technology, began to appear.

UV LED technology solutions today

UV-LEDs offer significant advantages over traditional UV technologies due to their increased efficiency, lower costs and easier deployment.

Recently, with the affordability and the potential of its use, devices have been created in various applications, including biomedical, DNA analysis and different types of sensors. 

With the costs of devices in the UV-B range still very high, manufacturers found these to be cost-prohibitive in some applications. The introduction of the first commercial UV-C LED-based disinfection system in 2012 has helped move the market forward. From then on, many companies began to consider UV-C LED-based products.

UV-C LEDs have a much higher shelf life than other UV-LEDs that require annual replacement, typically 3-3.5 years. Furthermore, with UV-C light ranges (200 nm – 280nm) the most effective at killing viruses, manufacturers observed this area has attracted much enthusiasm and demand for UV-C LED technology solutions in a range of applications

However, there is a caveat. 

There are not many companies capable of manufacturing UV-LEDs in this wavelength range and even a smaller amount that is producing a product with sufficient lifetime, reliability and performance. 

It’s why the UV-LEDs in our wearable air purifier only use the highest quality Crystal IS Klaran LEDs—owned by the world-renowned Asahi Kasei Group—one of the leading companies licenced to produce UV-LEDs.

The COVID-19 pandemic gave new impetus to UV-LED technology, and LEDs were the dominant component in a range of devices catered to serving a post-COVID world.

UV LED technology and virus disinfection 

As new industries adopt UV-LED technology for bio-healthcare and virus disinfection, the global market for UV-LEDs grew.

And it was easy to understand why.

The most important property of LED light sources is that they provide concentrated energy flux. Research into LED uses concluded that UV-LED technology could quickly and effectively kill over 99% of SARS-CoV-2 in less than one second.

It further concluded that UV-LED technology could effectively disinfect airborne viruses, water systems, and COVID-19 wards. 

Since the virus does not have good protection for its code, exposure to weak UV gives a high probability of code errors during reproduction, which means it can increase the number of mutations.

With a high density of light energy, it is possible to deactivate viruses, causing irreparable damage to them.

Furthermore, UV-LED technology is a safer and economically advanced solution for replacing older UV lamps containing mercury. If broken, these lamps could release a toxic element that does not dissolve and accumulates in the human body. 

Because of their short lifespan of around 5,000 hours, conventional UV lamps require frequent replacement. 

However, UV-LED technology has advantages in cost and safety with a shelf life of up to 10,000 hours, which is more than ten times the life of conventional mercury lamps.  

UV-LED technology is rapidly replacing the $70 million UV mercury lamp market due to technology advancements, including miniaturisation to less than 1mm2 and improved efficiency.

The radiation of mercury lamps, due to their design, cannot be focused into a dense beam and is well suited for disinfecting surfaces. The LED, on the other hand, allows you to treat the flow of contaminated air with a high degree of damage to airborne pathogens. 

Since SARS-COV-2 is primarily airborne, UV-C LED is the most appropriate technology against the COVID epidemic.

Enter Respiray, built on UV-LED technology

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the devastating consequences of respiratory viruses. 

At Respiray, we’re transforming the way we fight against harmful bacteria and viruses. Our wearable air purifier uses UV-C technology to disinfect the air we breathe in — protecting without the need to cover our faces. 

Vaccines are beginning to have a huge impact against the current pandemic, but this and future viruses will not just disappear. That’s why it’s crucial we have additional solutions to protect ourselves and those around us.” – Indrek Neivelt, Chief Executive Officer at Respiray.

Respiray emerged from one of the world’s most significant UV LED buyers, Ldiamon. Ldiamon is a specialist company that designs and manufactures medical UV-C LED sensors for leading medical companies across Europe for more than ten years. 

The UV LEDs in Respiray’s patent-pending disinfection module safeguard human exposure to UV-C light yet eliminate 99.9% of viruses, bacteria and airborne pathogens.

Respiray’s wearable air purifier allows the wearer to inactivate deadly viruses and bacteria around them and talk and smile freely again. 

UV-C LED technology has many uses and applications. LEDs have been around our society for decades, yet their potential for safeguarding us and decontaminating surfaces have only been realised.

As the success of UV-LED technology continues to grow, the subsequent demand market for more LED-type devices will too. 

Right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, the technology is being used to stop the spread of deadly viruses worldwide.