29 Mar 2012
As Aquionics prepares to launch its first LED-based water purifier, Yole Développement predicts sharp growth in next five years.
The annual market for ultraviolet (UV) LEDs will grow by a factor of five over the next few years, reaching $150 million by 2016 – according to the France-based technology market analyst company Yole Développement.
Pars Mukish, LED and compound semiconductors analyst at Yole, believes the UV-LED market to have been worth only $32.5 million in 2011, accounting for just 10% of the wider market for UV lamps.
But with industry consolidation and the arrival of a number of Asian companies now targeting the near-UV (UVA and UVB) wavelength ranges, Mukish expects the increased competition to prompt falling prices and much wider adoption of the technology.
At the same time, developments in LEDs operating at much shorter UVC wavelengths (below 300 nm) are beginning to transfer out of the laboratory, for what could be widespread application in air and water purification. As a result, by 2016 UV LEDs are expected to triple their share of the UV lamp market to 28%.
Mukish said: “At the device level, Asian companies, especially Japanese and Taiwanese ones, have taken the lead on the UV LED market, but recently some Chinese companies have also entered. This should increase competition, reduce prices and enable mass applications in the medium-to-long term.”
Near-UV applications dominate
LEDs emitting in the UVA wavelength range make up the largest chunk of the overall UV LED market, thanks largely to industrial UV curing applications. In Yole’s market report on the same topic a year ago, the analyst highlighted Heraeus Noble Light and Phoseon as two of the major players in the emerging market for UV LED curing lamps.
But this year has seen the formation of two professional associations dedicated to UV LED curing, says Yole, indicating that the technology is becoming much more widely accepted. Recent increases to UV LED output power should lead to cheaper lamps, while applications in counterfeit detection and photocatalyst air purification should also continue to grow.
In the UVC range, where the shorter wavelengths can be used for direct water and air purification, developments are at a much earlier stage. That is largely because it is far more difficult to manufacture LED chips emitting at wavelengths below 300 nm, while the availability of aluminum nitride (AlN) substrates on which the chips can be produced is very limited.
In earlier reports, Yole had predicted that high-volume applications of UVC emitters would begin to take hold in 2010. However, that has not happened, and with efficiency, lifetime and cost challenges remaining, the analyst firm now predicts that widespread adoption will only begin in 2014.
Signs of a commercial UVC LED market
But there are initial signs of a commercial market developing around this shorter wavelength. In early May, the Halma subsidiary and UV disinfection specialist Aquionics is due to launch its first germicidal UV LED product, the “UVPearl”, at the Interphex 2012 trade show in New York.
Aquionics is partnering with Charlotte, North Carolina, firm Dot Metrics, which has developed UV LED technology with optimized UVC output. Another company in the Carolinas, Columbia-based Sensor Electronic Technology (SETi), is in the process of expanding its UV LED manufacturing operation after a $20 million injection of capital last October.
SETi said at the time that it was witnessing greater market pull for the LEDs to be used in disinfection and personal healthcare, and purchased a new facility for volume chip production, with the potential for expanding the site to 130,000 square feet. Just last week, SETi said that it had received the AS9100 international aerospace industry certification for its operations – suggesting that applications in aviation, space and defense could also be emerging.
In another significant recent development, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute spin-off Crystal IS was bought out by the Japanese industrial giant Asahi Kasei in January this year, with a view to accelerating the commercialization of its UVC-emitting LEDs.
Crystal IS was initially a materials-focused company, and specialized in AlN substrates, but since switching that focus to LEDs it has delivered some impressive research results, including a record-breaking 9.2 mW output power at the key germicidal wavelength of 260 nm last year.
Though AlN-based UVC devices could ultimately drive the largest market for UV LEDs, advances in the AlN substrate material will be needed to bring down the cost of the technology to an acceptable level. Yole says that several companies are looking to commercialize 2-inch bulk AlN wafers by the end of this year, and if that does prove to be correct then commercial device applications could follow soon after.
Yole's latest UV LED market report is available now via the company's web site.