Germicidal UV interest may wane with COVID-19 vaccinations (MAGAZINE)

Jan. 29, 2021
Editor MAURY WRIGHT shares the outlook from industry contacts regarding the utility of UV-C technology even as the world looks for pandemic dangers to recede.

Never would any of us have hoped for a pandemic to occur just to create a business opportunity for the lighting sector. Still, it’s true that COVID-19 has pushed interest in germicidal ultraviolet (UV) technology to incredible heights. UV-C-band radiation (100–280 nm) realized with legacy or LED sources can deactivate SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens on surfaces, in air, and in water. As I wrote in a column last year, UV-C does come with dangers and the pandemic has brought some companies to the sector with questionable reputations and scruples. Still, the LED and lighting sectors stand to benefit from the UV-C opportunity. But will interest in disinfection drop with broader deployment of vaccines?

The interest in UV-C has led us to plan three issues of the magazine around UV-C special reports relative to specific applications — educational facilities in this issue. The positive impact is being felt from the supplier through the lighting manufacturers to specifiers and installers. UV-C LED research has probably advanced more in a year than in the prior five.

But in a UV webcast we hosted last summer, Bob Karlicek, director of the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, suggested that UV-C would return to the back burner when COVID-19 was tamed. I’ve asked a number of people their opinion on the topic. In conversation with some other trade press editors, a couple said that purveyors of UV-C are already seeing interest drop even as the US and other countries struggle to efficiently deploy a limited number of vaccine doses.

Related article: Dose factors heavily into ultraviolet disinfection system design

For this issue, I talked to a number of lighting manufacturers. Acuity Brands and Cooper Lighting are among the largest and are convinced that UV-C is a longterm opportunity. Executive Gary Trott said Acuity has been working on 222-nm far-UV-C technology for more than three years, not instigated by the pandemic. While a UV-C installation adds significant capital cost in a facility, Cooper executive Ken Walma said some applications will gladly pay the premium. He noted settings such as gyms, restaurants, and retail that today have significant monthly expenses tied to cleaning services today. UV-C moves the expense from the opex to the capex budget, but might save money and deliver benefits.

Acuity’s Trott said healthcare facilities have already proven that the technology can lessen the occurrence of healthcare-acquired infections. Moreover, he said businesses such as restaurants can promote their investment in UV-C as proof of their commitment to a safer environment for customers. Trott said, “This is so much bigger that what the lighting industry has ever done in the past.”

These are compelling arguments indeed. I want to buy them and, over the coming years, witness UV-C becoming a boon for our sectors. But my experience runs counter. UV-C will have to deliver a quantifiable return on investment (ROI) to become a permanent part of the built infrastructure. I do think such ROI may be achievable.

But here we will get back to the legacy of our publication. It may turn out that significant improvement in UV-C LEDs is the missing link to long-term success. As my feature points out, fixtures will soon integrate UV-C and visible light sources. If both radiation subsystems were LED based, the implementation would be much cleaner. Both subsystems could share driver circuits, thermal mitigation, and perhaps more, and in the process bring down that capex.

Maury Wright


[email protected]

About the Author

Maury Wright | Editor in Chief

Maury Wright is an electronics engineer turned technology journalist, who has focused specifically on the LED & Lighting industry for the past decade. Wright first wrote for LEDs Magazine as a contractor in 2010, and took over as Editor-in-Chief in 2012. He has broad experience in technology areas ranging from microprocessors to digital media to wireless networks that he gained over 30 years in the trade press. Wright has experience running global editorial operations, such as during his tenure as worldwide editorial director of EDN Magazine, and has been instrumental in launching publication websites going back to the earliest days of the Internet. Wright has won numerous industry awards, including multiple ASBPE national awards for B2B journalism excellence, and has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards. He received a BS in electrical engineering from Auburn University.