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The UVC Lighting Revolution Is Here

Current Events, Innovation

The COVID-19 epidemic has brought some fresh attention to UVC lighting. While the research behind isn't new, it has received a lot of attention recently as a way to potentially limit the spread of the virus indoors. With more and more businesses and people realizing that we need to adapt to include the SARS-CoV-2 virus as part of our “new normal,” the UVC lighting market is expanding to meet a growing demand for effective sanitization equipment.

What is UVC technology?

UVC (or UV-C) light is a specific range of wavelengths in the ultraviolet spectrum, between 200–280 nanometers. It's the most harmful UV wavelength, fortunately the Earth's atmosphere is capable of blocking it and keeping it from reaching the surface. It's actually this potential for harm that UVC lighting manufacturers harness—since the light is damaging, it's great killing or inactivating pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and mold.

The primary challenge in using UVC is making sure that it reaches all of the places it needs to go to adequately disinfect an area, without harming any of the occupants of that area. To that end, manufacturers have developed several ways to deploy UVC lighting in a safe, effective manner.

How does it work?

UVC technology consists of a specialized light fixture, LED bulb, and whatever other components manufacturers deem necessary for safety or efficacy. Depending on how and where the light is used, these components may consist of vent fans, motion sensors, or mounts for use inside of HVAC ducts. When the UVC light is on, the wavelengths damage pathogens to the point where they are no longer infectious.

There are several key advantages of UV sterilization over other methods. For starters, liquid disinfectants are easy to misuse and can damage some surfaces. Heat sterilization can also cause damage, especially to sensitive electronics like cell phones. Since UV light is just visible light from an LED bulb, there are no chemicals and very little heat. The result is an easy, versatile, effective way to sanitize.

How has it been used recently?

Some UVC units are intended for small, frequently-handled items that might be difficult to properly sanitize otherwise. Cell phones, wallets, glasses, and keys can all fit in a portable UVC unit, at which point the light kills any viruses or bacteria present on their surfaces. There are also portable wands which can be slowly waved over desks, chairs, and other hard or soft surfaces.

The U.K.'s National Health System uses UVC technology in hospitals in a system that continuously disinfects the air in hospital waiting areas and surgical theaters. London's busy tube system is also getting 200 new UVC devices to keep surfaces safe and clean. Even restaurants are getting in on the technology—The Blind Horse, in Kohler, Wisconsin, installed lighting fixtures that provide constant, passive sanitization of the air.

What does the future of the UVC market look like?

Medical experts have found that indoor air can harbor the SARS-CoV-2 virus far longer and in much higher concentrations than outdoor air. Even without the threat of COVID-19, businesses would still have to contend with seasonal influenza and other nasties, all of which UVC can help mitigate. The market for UVC lighting is growing, and this technology is likely to become standard in public spaces in the future. It may just be the key to making restaurants, waiting rooms, schools, and other indoor spaces safe for the public again.

An ever-increasing number of companies are getting into the game, developing and launching new ways to incorporate UVC fixtures into HVAC systems, building designs, and more. In October, Energy Focus, Inc. launched a portfolio of UVC disinfectant products—including three designed to complement each other and provide sanitization of the air and surfaces alike. SteriLumen, Inc., a subsidiary of infection prevention technology company Applied UV, Inc., has entered into a joint development agreement with Axis Lighting, Inc., to produce new LED-based UVC tech. These products will be designed for and pitched to hospitals in the U.S.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has taxed the most brilliant minds in the world when it comes to sanitization and risk mitigation strategies. UVC technology represents one of the world's best ways forward, by providing a way to sanitize the air and surface without the disadvantages of traditional disinfection methods. As this technology becomes more popular, we're likely to see it seamlessly integrated with more facets of our daily lives—from sanitizing cell phones and counter tops, to keeping indoor air safe to breathe.