LEDs emitting light in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum increasingly will replace incumbent technologies such as mercury, Yole Développement analyst Pars Mukish writes in its most recent study, titled "UV LEDs: Technology and Application Trends". What makes LEDs so competitive are properties like compactness, low cost of ownership and environmentally-friendly composition.
UV curing is the most dynamic and the most important market for vendors of UV LEDs. The entire value chain is pushing for the technology’s adoption – from manufacturers of UV LED modules and systems to ink formulators. With the recent acquisition of Fusion UV by Heraueus, all major UV curing system manufacturers are now involved in the UV LED technology transition. In 2012, applications in the UVA and UVB part of the spectrum represented 89% of the overall UV LED market. UVC applications are still in their infancy; UVC devices are mainly sold for R&D purposes and analytic instruments like spectrometers. However, the market for UVC applications could kick into gear within the next two years, Mukish believes. The reason: Publications about the qualification examination of such LEDs in recent times have climbed by as much as 10%, and recently the world’s first UVC LED-based disinfection system went into commercial production.
Figure 1: Market development of OV LEDs. Source: Yole Développement. For full resolution click here.
In addition to traditional applications such as UV lamps replacement and due to their favorable properties compared to mercury lamps, UV LEDs are creating new applications that aren’t accessible to these traditional UV light sources. This holds particularly true for applications requiring portability and small dimensions. Examples for these products that have been brought to market are nail curing systems, cellphone disinfection systems and counterfeit money detectors.
Over the past few years, the booming UVA/UVB market has already attracted new players, the study says. Each player employs a different strategy for capturing the maximum value created by this disruptive technology – horizontal integration from UV lamp to UV LED), vertical integration (from UV LED device to UV LED system) or both. The study sees traditional UV lamp manufacturers under the most pressure since they have to compensate for the waning lamp replacement market by diversifying their activities. Once UVC LEDs achieve sufficient performance, there will be no way a manufacturer will allow the opportunity to pass them by. Once this opportunity will be evident, the supply chain will become a "mess", says market expert Mukish. The reason: The value chain will reach a degree of competitiveness that will make consolidation necessary.
The study also contains a number of statements with regard to the UV LED materials. For example, AIN on sapphire templates with their right mix between cost and performance are definitively the substrate of choice for UVA applications. However, for UVC and to some extend for UVB applications the competition with bulk AIN substrate is tough, since such material could allow for improvement in terms of lifetime, efficiency and power output. Another issue will be at the epitaxy level, and this barrier will have to be overcome in order to see commercialization of UV LED-based disinfection and purification systems.
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