Advances in Germicidal UV Light Technology

Disinfecting our future
How Germicidal UV works on Viruses (COVID19)

Research studying the adverse effects of UV radiation (UVA, UVB, & UVC) on biological organisms has shown us that UVA has very few harmful effects on living things. UVB causes sunburn, can damage our eyes, and with prolonged exposure contributes to premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. Of course, this knowledge was the result of long-term studies from sun exposure, which is where we see UVB rays naturally. Our atmosphere blocks most of the UVB rays, so we are still collecting data on the effects of, full-spectrum, artificially produced UVB. Fortunately, our atmosphere prevents all UVC rays from reaching us here on the ground. Roughly 95% of the UV radiation that penetrates our atmosphere is UVA rays, and the other 5% is UVB.

UV light waves are divided into three segments (UVA, UVB, & UVC) all three sectors of UV light are invisible to the human eye. So, the light we see emitting from UV light devices is not UV wavelengths, but light rays that are just above the UV spectrum.  UVA rays have the longest wavelength, ranging from about 400 nanometers (nm) down to 310 nm.  UVB ranges from 310 nm down to about 280 nm, and the shortest wavelength belongs to UVC with wavelengths below 280 nm and down to about 100 nm.

Biological organisms cannot prevent the absorption of UVC radiation. These rays disrupt cell function at the DNA level, which is why they were identified as mutagens more than 100 years ago.  Since our atmosphere blocks UVC rays, our knowledge of the effects of long-term exposure is limited. Today, more and more companies are marketing and selling UVC germicidal devices for disinfecting.  

Recent studies support UVB as a disinfecting wavelength as well. While the UVB wavelength is absorbed more slowly than UVC, tests show that with direct exposure for thirty minutes on bacteria covered surfaces, UVB has proven to be even more effective than UVC.

A Huge Leap Forward

Today, LED manufacturers can produce LED components that emit UVB & UVC wavelengths. UV LEDs will transform the UV germicidal landscape through, increased energy efficiency, elimination of end-of-life environmental concerns, the longevity of LED components with minimal degradation, the product footprint, and costs effectiveness as production volume rises to meet demand. The most significant drawback of the tube type UV lamps is the expense and the replacement schedule based on the degradation of the UV light produced. Both have proven to be a deterrent to consumers considering UVC for their HVAC system to reduce airborne pathogens.

The medical field, the restaurant industry, HVAC, and many other commercial industries adopted UV germicidal technology long ago.  We believe we will soon see increased demand for these devices. UV LEDs will not only replace current UV lamps, but they will also allow for the development of affordable compact consumer germicidal products. The application of UV LEDs has not taken off quite yet, but we believe it will be the next big move in the battle against potential pandemics like the coronavirus (Covid19). Last winter proved to be one of the most challenging flu seasons, and these escalating health concerns will drive the demand for consumer germicidal products. As demand grows, the manufacturing of UV LEDs will quickly reach levels that make them a more affordable choice. Only a couple of LED manufacturers currently produce UVB & C LEDs, but all the top manufacturers will get on board when consumers are made aware of the technology.   

USE Caution!

There are a lot of UV germicidal products on the market today. Many claiming to kill germs, viruses, etc. But not all produce the proper wavelengths of light to be effective.  Do your homework before purchasing these products. Since the wavelengths proven to work are not visible to the human eye, you may want to be sure any product you consider actually delivers UVB or C wavelengths. If they do, they will come with proper warning labels and instructions for safe use. These warnings are serious. We recommend reviewing the technical data to understand the light source (tube, or LED) and the UV wavelength emitted. Is it within the UVB-C range (100 – 315 nm)? Read reports, and studies to see if the product has undergone 3rd party testing. Most consumers do not have the equipment necessary to measure invisible light, so we have to rely on those who do. It is unfortunate that some of these products are scams and will tarnish the reputation of real UV Germicidal devices. If these products do not provide the correct wavelengths, well you may have a pleasant blacklight experience and feelings of false security but with no actual effectiveness.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Research in the late 1800s and early 1900s proved that exposure to specific wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light damages DNA, so with adequate exposure and intensity, cells of microorganisms lose the ability to function, and the microbes die. The confirmation of the science opened the door to endless possibilities in the areas of germ-killing. Unfortunately, early versions of UV lamps were not very reliable, so the adoption of the technology was slow. It required advancements in technology to make the science viable. After 30 years of incremental improvements, and the development of mercury vapor light tubes, users could reliably employ the technology, but it was not a cost-efficient disinfecting method. The gas-filled tube technology not only paved the way for UV lamp use, but it also revolutionized the lighting industry, as similar approaches were used to create lighting tubes for nearly every lighting application in use today. The technology currently dominates the landscape, but LED technology is quickly replacing tube style lighting products, and LEDs will continue to redefine the industry. 

Lighting companies have manufactured billions of these tube type lamps over the last 80 plus years.   While there were once environmental concerns regarding end-of-life disposal of these mercury vapor tubes, the science indicated it was a net positive. The increased efficiency of the lights reduced energy use significantly. The energy savings resulted in a significant reduction in the overall release of mercury into the atmosphere since the burning coal to produce energy releases more mercury into the atmosphere than the amounts found in the tubes produced. And now with proper disposal options available, the ratio is even more favorable. However, this revolutionary advance in lighting technology may soon be obsolete.  A greener, more efficient alternative is quickly replacing these tubes.