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UV LEDs are emerging in new applications

UV LEDs are emerging in new applications

By BizLED Bureau

Feb 5, 2016: Ultraviolet (UV) LEDs has come of age and is quickly emerging as a reliable UV sources in diverse applications. Finding application in every sector, some of the major application areas of UV LEDs include medicinal procedures, curing, counterfeit detection, sensing, printing, and water and air disinfection.

UV LEDs are emerging in new applications

With rise in demand, more manufacturers and innovative technological advances are pitching in. The bulk production has a direct impact on costs making them considerably lower in last few years. However, UV prices are still much higher when compared to the price of white LEDs as fewer manufacturers supply UV LEDs. More and more white-light LED manufacturers want to enter this field due to better future of this technology.

How UV LED is produced

For the production of UV LEDs, lower wavelengths generally equate more aluminum content in the epitaxial (epi) layers grown on the substrate. The tool known as standard metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD), is used for epi growth in visible LEDs can be used to produce UV-A LEDs. But UV-B and UV-C LEDs need specialized tools for production as they greatly raises barriers for entry when compared to their UV-A counterpart.

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The UV-A spectrum ranges from 315-400 nm; UV-B ranges approximately from 280-315 nm; and UV-C ranges approximately from 100-280 nm. UV LEDs that have wavelengths less than 350 nm are produced on aluminum nitride (AlN) substrates. UV LEDs can also be divided into UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C spectral bands.

Benefits of  UV LEDs

Traditional mercury-vapor sources are required for UV light applications. They require time to warm up, can create ozone, and use toxic materials for light creation. With more awareness in the industry, UV LEDs appear to be perfect replacements: They save energy after starting up immediately, not required to be kept on and don’t contain toxic materials like mercury. They also have greater design flexibility.

That being said, the replacement of traditional UV lamps with UV LED technologies is only the tip of the iceberg with regard to the potential for the UV LED market and all these factors make UV LED luminaires better suited for the current market.

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New applications for UV LEDs

One of the brightest application of UV is, it could be used include UV-A integration in smartphone/handheld devices for analysis or counterfeit detection, and UV-C integration in refrigerators or other medical devices for disinfection.

UV LEDs today find their highest penetration in curing applications, but other applications such as water and air disinfection are increasing their dependability on UV LEDs as the technology evolves. Experts are predicting this growth to continue for next 5 years and new applications and uses will emerge.

Growth opportunities

The largest growth opportunities, however, will stem from new applications such as the aforementioned UV-A integration into everyday items like smartphones/handheld devices for counterfeit detection or analysis. Similarly, UV-C integration into refrigerators for disinfection has huge potential. These new applications are in the very early stages of R&D, so it is difficult to forecast these markets.

Global market for UV LED applications

Now let’s consider the market potential. Fig. 3 projects the revenue breakdown by type of UV LED: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. In general, UV-A LEDs have higher penetration rates among all applications because of lower prices. UV-A is a very good entry point for these packaged LED manufacturers that produce white-light LEDs since they can use their current MOCVD tools. It is forecasted that the market for UV-A packaged LEDs will grow by approximately a 45% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over five years through 2020.

Other applications are beginning to increase their usage of UV LEDs as the technology evolves, with printing being the other main category in the UV-A market. In general, a large printer needs a UV light engine with approximately three to four rows of LEDs comprising hundreds of 1W UV LED die. Although water/air disinfection has a lower penetration rate compared to other applications, the market has great potential and this is the main driver for UV-C LEDs.

Major market regions are supposed to be in North America and Japan. Although the usage of UV LEDs is relatively limited in countries such as China and other emerging global markets, it is expected that these regions are poised to undergo significant growth in the next five years as well.

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