UV LEDs and coronavirus: how effective are the latest sanitizer systems?

Earlier this year, UV LED businesses, Sensor Electronics Technology Inc of the US and South Korean Seoul Viosys, released a Violeds UV-C LED system that is reported to kill 99.437% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a second. Tests were conducted by KR Biotech, South Korea, with SETI and Seoul Viosys stating the sanitizer device could be an effective method to disinfect airborne viruses as well as water systems and rooms housing Covid-19 patients.

But how effective is the technology?

Photonics innovation services provider, PISEO, which recently published a UV-C LED technical analysis report, ‘UV-C LEDs at the time of Covid-19’, and has a rich heritage of system design and realization, believes more public detail is required before industry players can truly know.

PISEO is a partner of Yole Développement (Yole), the market research & strategy consulting company. Both companies join their force to deliver today a comprehensive overview of the UV LED industry.

With a deep analysis of the market trends and technology evolution, Yole’s analysts propose a complimentary vision of the UV LED industry with dedicated report, UV LEDs – Market and Technology Trends.

Remarkable growth

The Violeds device comes at a time when the UV-C LED market is witnessing unprecedented growth. The pandemic has triggered huge demand for disinfection systems, boosting momentum in UV-C LEDs. According to Yole’s UV LED report, the market is expected to more than double, from $144 million in 2019 to $308 million in 2020, before mushrooming to $2.5 billion by 2025.

The rapid growth follows more than a decade of relatively slow market activity. Back in 2008, UV LEDs were beginning to emerge with only 10 industry players largely focusing on UVA LEDs for UV curing applications.

Over time, visible LED businesses joined the UV LED market, advancing product development. However, increased competition coupled with technology challenges saw the UV-C LED segment remain sluggish with disinfection product demand being largely met by market incumbent, the UV mercury lamp. Covid-19 is changing this.

Despite its relatively high cost and low efficiency, the UV-C LED is now rapidly eating away at the UV mercury lamp market share for key reasons. LEDs don’t contain mercury, widely banned in many electrical and electronics products, while switching these devices on and off doesn’t impact lifetime, as is the case with the UV lamp.

Importantly, the UV-C LED market is now also home to at least 95 industry players, including Crystal IS, Nitride Semiconductors, Nichia, Epitop, SemiLEDs, Seoul Viosys and Sensor Electronics Technology Inc (SETI). Some of these businesses – Nichia is the latest – have released data that indicates UV-C LEDs can inactivate at least 99% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on a surface, within seconds of exposure, signalling the market is ready for Covid-19-fuelled growth. However, the replacement of the mercury lamp with the UV-C LED into an effective and safe product, as recently marketed by Seoul Viosys and SETI, isn’t trivial.

System design and integration challenges

The design of any UV-C LED disinfection system must be adapted to the UV-C LED’s specific properties, including optical emission and thermal management. Only limited lessons can be learned from the visible LED industry, as the much lower efficiency of the UV-C LED impacts thermal integration while UV-C radiation degrades the materials used in such systems, both of which will decrease the reliability of the end-product.

Product design also has to take into account safety issues associated with radiation from UV-C LEDs. Energy emitted from these components is much higher than normal sunlight, making UV-C LED disinfection systems a hazard to humans if technical safety standards aren’t followed. Indeed, the Global Lighting Association recently published guidance on the safety requirements of such products following, as it said: “the proliferation of UV-C disinfecting devices”.

At the same time, current regulations only apply to safety, and haven’t yet been extended to the disinfection process of the latest systems. Indeed, no defined test process yet exists that would allow the performance of different products to be compared. For example, KR Biotech data indicates the Violeds system can inactivate 99.457% of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a second, but where is the detail on the test procedure or on influencing factors such as room-size and surface type?

Still, while the jury may be out on the latest UVC-LED systems, these early products will create more momentum in this fast-growing market. Right now, many industry players are looking to design and build UV-C LED disinfection systems, and the design, integration and test services from a photonics innovation center such as Piseo can ensure the finished product is both effective and safe.

About the authors

Pars Mukish serves as a Business Unit Manager, Solid-State Lighting (SSL) & Display at Yole Développement (Yole).

Pars’ mission is dedicated to the development of SSL and Display activities (ie laser diode, LED and OLED). Pars actively assists and supports the development of strategic projects, working with leading customers of the company.

He manages the on-going expansion of technical and market expertise of the SSL & Display team. This team interacts daily with leading companies of the industry, allowing analysts to collect a large amount of data and integrate their understanding of the evolution of the market with technology breakthroughs.

Pars is also regularly involved in international conferences, giving presentations and delivering keynotes.

Prior to Yole, Pars has worked as Marketing Analyst and Techno-Economic Analyst for several years at the CEA (French Research Center).

Pars holds a master’s in Materials Science & Polymers (ITECH – France) and a master’s in Innovation & Technology Management (EM Lyon – France).

Joel Thome is General Manager at PISEO.

Since 2013, Joël drives the development of PISEO which is now a recognized Photonics Innovation Center having customers all over the world. Together with his team of 15 experts and analysts he delivers, a.o., high added value information on photonic components and systems performances with relation to their application use. Such data fuels strategic thinking of the company’s customers for their innovation activities.

Prior to head PISEO, Joel has worked may years at Philips Lighting (now Signify) at various management position and lately as Director of Global LED Systems Platforms.

Joel has an Msc in Mechanical Engineering (ENIM – France) supplemented by Executive Education in Marketing and Innovation Management from INSEAD and IMD.

Matthieu Verstraete is Innovation Leader and Electronics & Software Architect at PISEO.

Matthieu has more than 20 years of experience acquired mainly within the Philips group. In the early years, this experience led him to participate in the Netherlands in the development of set-top boxes for digital television and optical DVD playback and burning systems. He was also responsible for the technical specification of the Philips group’s portfolio of drivers for LED lighting devices worldwide. Prior to joining PISEO, he was Global System Architect for LED outdoor lighting solutions from Signify (ex Philips Lighting).

Within PISEO, he directs and participates in studies of innovative photonic systems for all fields of application. His role as a system architect leads him to analyse applications and propose technical solutions that integrate the most recent photonic and electronic components and software bricks.

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