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Jun 17th, 2013
UV LEDs ease overcapacity woes
Shrinking margins in visible LEDs are driving companies to an ultraviolet explosion, according to Yole Développement’s Pars Mukish.
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Ultraviolet light has power beyond our direct perception: it can trigger chemical reactions, kill bugs, and make hidden messages reveal themselves to us. Until recently fluorescent tubes containing toxic mercury have done these tasks, but the world is turning away from them. And as prices for LEDs emitting visible wavelengths plummet, manufacturers have realised that targeting UV wavelengths might pay off. And Lyon, France market analysts Yole Développement agree it’s a sector with potential, predicting the packaged UV LED market to grow at a 43% compound annual growth rate. That would make it a $270 million market by 2017, an attractive figure considering that the fi rst step in changing from visible to UV manufacturing is relatively simple.

For 315-400 nm UV-A wavelengths, technology at the epitaxial level can be the same as for visible LED, so that standard MOCVD tools can be used,” explained Yole analyst Pars Mukish. Though UV-A requires different epitaxial layer composition, LEDs have been increasingly adopted for a critical application: UV curing, where the light triggers chemical hardening reactions. “The ramp up started two to three years ago, when the performance of UV LED reached incumbent technologies’ level,” Mukish said. “Cost was also important, but performance was the main driver. Even though purchase costs are slightly higher, you have other system miniaturisation advantages and total cost of ownership is lower. Compare a 1 m long UV lamp with a 1 cm2 UV LED: it’s a big  difference. Using UV LEDs, the most powerful system can go up to 16 Wcm-2. There is no toxic mercury and lifetime is also 10 times higher, from 2,000 hours for a traditional lamp to 20,000 hours for UV LEDs.

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