The thermal implications of small, portable UV LED disinfection: Page 2 of 4

June 27, 2017 // By John Cafferkey
The thermal implications of small, portable UV LED disinfection
LED technology is about to revolutionize the UVC disinfection market by enabling small, robust and portable applications that are not possible using traditional UVC technologies. However, as the technology gets smaller and the power gets higher one major challenge the industry needs to overcome is effective thermal management.

Opening up a new world of UVC disinfection

UVC LED technology is significantly smaller and more flexible, controllable and cost-effective than its mercury lamp alternative. In particular, the small size of UV LEDs, and the fact that these LEDs can be arranged to fit a much wider range of form factors, allows manufacturers to produce smaller, portable (even hand held) disinfection devices. The size and robustness of UVC LED technology means that such LEDs could even be embedded within devices themselves, turning them into self-disinfecting devices. These factors open up a host of new applications.

In homes, portable and convenient UVC LED ‘wands’ could be used to disinfect surfaces around the home or your computer keyboard, while baby bottles could be sterilised in UVC enabled containers. Sterilisation could take place in the pipes of a home, or even the tap itself. Even toothbrush holders could be embedded with the technology to disinfect toothbrushes at the push of a button.

Everyday items in the home such as toothbrushes
can become self-disinfecting

In hospitals, UVC disinfection robots (albeit not currently using UVC LEDs) are already growing in use, but this is just the start. UVC LED technology could be embedded within instruments such as stethoscopes and scalpels to sterilise them within just a few seconds when required. This could help to stem the alarming growth in hospital-based infections such as MRSA due to inadequate sterilisation of hospital objects and patients: ‘One in every 25 hospital patients contracts at least one healthcare-associated infection during their visit. Globally, each year over 700,000 patients suffer from an infection while hospitalized, leading to 75,000 deaths.

Medical equipment such as stethoscopes
could be sterilised at the point of use

Small, affordable, accessible UVC LED form factors also hold the potential to enable sterilisation of water at the point of consumption. This would be of use anywhere that clean water is unavailable, and in particular in countries that lack centralised water sterilisation infrastructure or are affected by natural disasters. As such, UVC LED technology holds the potential to prevent millions of deaths every year.

But for the market to meet the weighty expectations placed on it by the analysts, designers will have to address one critical factor — how they will deal with the thermal demands of UV LEDs while ensuring that components remain cost-effective, durable, machinable and resistant to wear from the UV light source itself.

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