COVID-19, a perfect use-case for UV lighting technologies – An interview with ams OSRAM, PISEO and Yole Développement

The current health crisis, with COVID-19 pandemic is causing an extreme high demand for disinfection solutions. Among these, devices using UV-C radiation are experiencing renewed interest. We see a lot of communication on this subject, from press releases developed by industrial companies to articles in media.

According to the market research & strategy consulting company, Yole Développement (Yole), in 2019, the UV-C LED market was rather small, reaching $108 million.

However, to respond to growing concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus, lot of companies have started to use UV light. Idea was to eradicate any possible germs and deal with the pandemic. Facing this demand, lot of industrials decided to develop innovative solutions. This had, for sure a positive impact on the market in 2020 which has more than double.

ams OSRAM, PISEO and Yole had the opportunity to share their vision on the latest UV developments and market evolution.

Dr. Christian Leirer, Director for Product Management, Dr. Hans-Jürgen Lugauer, Senior Manager, both at ams OSRAM, Pars Mukish, Business Unit Manager at Yole and Joel Thome, CEO of PISEO, debated together, shared their expertise and revealed today their vision of the UV LED industry, with the COVID-19 behind.

Discover below this discussion

Status of the UV-C LED market – How are prices evolving?

Sandrine Leroy (SL): UV-C lighting (including UV-C LED) has recently gained unprecedented attention for disinfection / purification applications.

Can you comment on this increase in market demand and the impact on the UV lighting industry today?

Dr. Christian Leirer (CL): We see an increased awareness regarding hygiene and pathogens today, which was not as prevalent prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic. But the use of UV-C light for disinfection is nothing new – and thanks to new LED technology especially, the number of possible use cases and system architectures increased significantly during the last months. Naturally, the pandemic caused a higher demand in the entire disinfection market, not only the lighting part. But regarding the lighting part, LED technology showed clear advantages compared to other approaches and former technologies. For example, LEDs don’t need much space and can therefore be included very easily in air conditioning systems, water trunks, etc. So, they can easily be placed where they are needed. And regarding performance and disinfection rates, we’re just at the beginning with very promising results for further product generations.

Pars Mukish (PM): There is good in everything bad, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic has created some perfect use-cases for UV lighting technologies to spread across a rapidly changing disinfection / purification market. Indeed, such technologies present several advantages over chemical methods when used for disinfection of air or surfaces, and reduced spread of the disease through close or indirect contacts.

And both the UV lamp and UV LED industries will benefit from such a trend:

  • UV lamps have the advantage of being already mature and with fixed specifications, so they will benefit the most from this opportunity in the short term. They allow manufacturers to produce systems easily according to the specific requirements of their applications.
  • For UV LEDs, this opportunity represents the spark the technology has been waiting for more than 10 years to start spreading across the UV-C lighting market. Most system manufacturers were in a “wait & see” mode toward UV-C LED technology until now as there were no really strong use cases. However, some perfect ones have just been created, and the UV-C LED industry is now in the starting blocks to take advantage of this opportunity.
A woman cleans a plastic free and reusable water bottle in a kitchen sink, close up – Courtesy of ams OSRAM, 2021

Joël Thome (JT): The pandemic led to booming UV-C LED demand, and manufacturers have faced a shortage of components. Although the price and performance of UV-C LEDs are still limiting factors, they are continuously improving, and the pandemic should strengthen the trend of reducing cost and increasing performance of UV-C LEDs.

With this phenomenon, some LED lighting systems manufacturers are entering the UVC-based disinfection/purification market. Although UVC LED brings new integration challenges, the experience of those manufacturers in LED systems is a significant advantage. However, visible light LED technology is now mature, and the UV-C-based disinfection/purification applications are an opportunity for the LED luminaires manufacturers to enter a growing market.

Courtesy of ams OSRAM, 2021

SL: After years of development, ams OSRAM seems to have accelerated its UV-C LED strategy (i.e., first UV-C LED released in December 2020, recent investment in Bolb Inc.).

Could you please comment on ams OSRAM’s UV-C LED history and strategy?

CL: At ams OSRAM, we have been active in the UV area for many years and developed in-depth knowledge of UV technology from participating in various research projects with partners from industry and research. Particularly noteworthy are the publicly-funded UNIQUE (funded by the State of Bavaria, Germany) and UV-Power (funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the “Advanced UV for Life” (AUVL) consortium) projects. In both, we focused on the development of high-power UV-C LEDs in the 260 to 280 Nanometer range to be used in industrial disinfection processes like water purification but used different technological approaches. With our project partners, we worked on making significant improvements to LED’s efficiency and aging behavior, so that they can operate longer and more economically.

This long expertise in the UV field combined with our experience in manufacturing and industrialization of products now helps us with our go-to-market strategy. In December 2020, we launched our first UV-C LED, the Oslon UV 3636. We started with a low- and a mid-power version, achieving 4.7 and 42 mW. Recently we added a 13.5 mW version to our portfolio. Our strategic investment in Bolb Inc. will boost our products’ efficiency and improve our position in the market when we think of the development of high-power products which will be launched by the end of this year.

SL: Surface and air purification are currently the main drivers for the UV-C LED market. What is your vision for water purification applications?

CL: Up to now, conventional lighting technologies like mercury vapor lamps are the most widespread for professional water purification. These UV lamps are mainly used when extremely high light output is required. One disadvantage of these UV lamps is that they usually emit a considerable part of the electrical power as thermal radiation in the infrared range. Therefore, they must be filtered and/or cooled at great expense – and a large part of the energy used is thus lost. Their size also makes them impractical for space-critical applications.

In comparison, a major advantage of LEDs is their compact design and their robustness against external influences (cf. glass bulbs in mercury vapor lamps). Above all, the space-saving dimensions enable new forms of applications that were not feasible with previous technologies, such as the integration of UV-C light sources in water taps or air conditioning systems. In both cases, UV-C LEDs also achieve good disinfection results at low currents.

Regarding drinking water treatment, various framework conditions must be considered, to which the corresponding power level of the disinfection solution must fit. While values between 10 and 50 mW are usually enough for standing water in a domestic environment, the disinfection of flowing water requires power levels between 50 and 500 mW. In professional drinking water treatment, these target values are correspondingly higher at 500 to 1000 mW. The use of LEDs in the future is directly related to the respective application. We already see the first possible use cases for water disinfection where LEDs are the light source of choice. When it comes to large-scale applications, we expect that LEDs will reach a suitable level in a few years.

PM: Up to now, most of the market revenues and industrial developments were related to water disinfection / purification applications, which is the killer application for UV-C LED. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry is shifting to air and surface disinfection.

But it’s definitely good for the UV-C LED business in the mid- / long- term, as the industry will be able to develop UV-C LED technology further (e.g., increase efficiency, lower manufacturing cost, etc.) through those “smaller applications” and reach more rapidly the requirements of water disinfection applications. Additionally, the current situation has forced most of the traditional water disinfection players (working with UV lamps) to accelerate their UV LED roadmap. So in the end, this situation could have been best for UV-C LED to reach water purification applications.

JT:. Notwithstanding UV-C LED’s compactness, the current cost and performance of UV-C LEDs mean low-pressure mercury lamps are still attractive, especially for high-power applications, which represents the biggest part of the water disinfection/purification market. However, the UV-C LED cost down and performance up trends should lead to a wider use of UV-C LEDs in high-power applications in the mid- /long- term.

The high-power water purification products require significant development investment for the traditional players in this market. For instance, the current design of the reactor is well adapted for low-power mercury lamps but might be completely different when optimized for LEDs (emission profile, thermal…).

Indeed, UV-C LEDs have some advantages compared to the traditional low-pressure mercury lamps, such as their thermal behavior. The low-pressure mercury lamps radiate light and heat in the same direction, and the heat attracts dirt onto the quartz sleeves that protect the lamp. This is not the case with UV-C LEDs, thanks to heat dissipation through their solder pads.

SL: Price (i.e. $/mW) and performance (e.g., EQE, etc.) still represent two of the key challenges for further adoption of UV-C LEDs. What is ams OSRAM’s vision on these issues, and what are you doing to resolve them?

CL: There are several aspects which need to be considered. It is important for us to reach the mercury lamp application costs quickly with LED-based approaches. Therefore, we are constantly working on improving our operational excellence regarding epitaxy, chip, and package design. We also profit from our expertise and strong R&D footprint in leading chip technologies that directly contribute to our UV-C developments. So, we are committed to gain an even better market position thanks to our long experience in the industrialization of complex and high-quality products.

We also see potential scaling effects with access to different markets, as well as to specific synergies thanks to a possible combination of lighting and sensing technologies from ams OSRAM. Besides this, we are constantly working on new disruptive technologies together with our partners and customers – and in the past we’ve proved several times that innovating new technologies is part of our DNA.

SL: How do you see the UV-C LED performance (EQE/Optical power) trend evolve in the coming months/years?

CL: During the last 15 to 20 years, we have driven cost, performance, and lifetime of blue LEDs to improve many-fold. In the early years, gains beyond 10% were often achieved, but the curve has flattened out for traditional LEDs as they are getting closer to the theoretical limits. We foresee UV-C LED technology following a similar trajectory of improvements through solid research & development efforts and industrialization excellence. While many learnings and technology building blocks can be transferred or adapted to UV-C LED technology, leading in UV-C LED will be a years-long marathon rather than a months-long sprint – like the curve for white LEDs a few years ago. With the clear UV-C LED technology roadmap in place for the next 5 years at ams OSRAM, we foresee innovation opportunities well beyond a 10-year horizon.

SL: Do you foresee any technological breakthrough in the near future that could drastically improve the EQE?

CL: A first breakthrough has already happened within Bolb Inc., in which ams OSRAM invested earlier this year. The future cooperation between the two companies in research will accelerate the industrialization of highly efficient and high-performance UV-C LEDs. Compared to traditional lamps, UV-C LED technology has the potential to consume significantly less energy while still providing the high light output required. The collaboration between ams OSRAM and Bolb now promises to overcome this technological hurdle. Thanks to a unique technological building block for UV-C LEDs, Bolb is already succeeding in achieving outstanding efficiency values that are far ahead of other products available on the market.

Yet, the performance and lifetime of state-of-the-art red and blue LEDs are about ten times higher compared to today’s UV-C LEDs. We foresee many incremental improvements by transferring decades of R&D experience from traditional LED technology to UV-C. Additionally, there will be further disruptive improvements over the course of the next three years through solid research and development activities in the fields of epitaxy, chip, and package materials tailored to the needs and specialties of UV-C technology.

In addition to the continuous improvement of epilayer structure and quality to increase the internal quantum efficiency by 20-30%, the main potential for improvement lies in the light extraction efficiency (LEE). Here, for example, additional patterning at the substrate-semiconductor interface by the so-called nano-PSS technology can increase the LEE by 40-50%, while a highly reflective UV-C optimized mirror at the p-contact can even increase the LEE by another 50-70%. Complemented by a better encapsulation technology, the ultimate goal of these improvements is to achieve an EQE value of more than 30%, as offered by today’s Hg-based discharge lamps.

SL: What are the trends in terms of wavelength?

Dr. Hans-Jürgen Lugauer (HJL) : A major advantage of LED technology is that – depending on the microorganism against which the light is to act – the required wavelength can easily be addressed. While 265 nm can be more beneficial in terms of germicidal efficiency, there are other challenges like material absorption which may shift the sweet spot of the wavelength. A diversified product portfolio is of course beneficial to serve customer needs.

SL: Do you see any possible future in the 222 nm wavelength?

HJL: The material limitations of the AlGaN material system for this spectral range pose many physical challenges which still need to be resolved. For example, the very high Al concentration necessary to reach an emission wavelength below 230 nm currently leads to insufficient doping and light extraction resulting in very low-efficiency LEDs. However, some of our project partners in the AUVL consortium (TU Berlin, Ferdinand Braun Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik gGmbH and their spin-off UVphotonics NT) have already begun research activities to optimize the material properties and device designs further to address these limitations and show promising results. In addition, UVphotonics has already sold engineering samples with 230 nm emission. Therefore, we firmly believe that LEDs with an emission wavelength below 230 nm will reach a sufficient maturity level, even though it will probably still take several years before you can start to scale it to production volumes.

SL: What are the other challenges you have identified to develop this market further?

CL: The UV-C LED market is fragmented from a buyer’s perspective and has diverse applications. Many companies are experienced in LED technology and have a head start once they identify UV-C LED technology as relevant to their business. Additionally, there are players active in the UV-C mercury lamp area, not having past exposure to LEDs. Those will need to be educated and build up competency in general LED knowledge and system environment.

After the first wave of consumer-grade applications we can observe today, the next wave of industrial and medical-grade applications will require improved lifetime and quality levels. In addition, affordability and increased optical power output are also necessary to enable the end market. The main challenge in opening the sizable markets of point-of-use and point-of-entry water disinfection is to meet and eventually exceed the price-performance ratio of traditional mercury lamps, which currently are at a substantially lower price-performance ratio compared to UV-C LEDs. Finally, regional regulations need to be developed and safety requirements need to be addressed to ensure safe and reliable operation of UV-C LEDs.

PM: Price and performance aspects are clearly challenging and need to be tackled to develop the market further. But some other parameters will also play a significant role. As an example:

In developing good UV-C LED devices, we need to ensure they are compatible with OEMs’ requirements. Indeed, this industry traditionally worked with standardized UV lamps (tubes, etc.) and will now have to implement small semiconductor light sources. Therefore, in this field, development of specific circuitry and optics, as well as plug and play modules for OEMs, will be key to accelerate adoption.

Also, the light properties of LEDs are different from those of lamps, so disinfection reactors will have to be redesigned to take advantage of UV-C LED technology.

Optical Simulations of UV-C radiation and irradiance_Piséo

JT: Indeed, cost and performance are some of the main challenges.

However, it is worth emphasizing that very specific knowledge and experience of the technology itself and know-how in system design is required in order to integrate these kinds of new components into fully efficient products (optical, thermal, electronics…).

SL: With UV lighting once again in the forefront, how do you see the competition between UV-C LEDs and traditional UV(C) lamps?

CL: We are convinced that as in general lighting, LEDs will replace mercury lamps incrementally. Today we see applications like upper air disinfection or surface disinfection where LEDs could supersede mercury lamps due to LEDs’ advantages, such as miniaturization, robustness versus fragile glass, electronic and optical design flexibility, etc. In contrast, large-scale water disinfection might take a couple of years. However, it will always be important to look at application-specific advantages and cost for a proper comparison.

COVID-19 pandemic – how is it changing the UV-C LED industry…

SL: COVID-19 was a worldwide health crisis and impacted every industry. How was Osram’s business affected by this crisis, and what are your business expectations for 2021/2022?

CL: So far, we have come through the crisis better than expected. The comprehensive hygiene measures we took at an early stage at the various sites have had an effect. The past few weeks have given us cause for hope. In this respect, we look to the near future with confidence.

SL: With COVID-19 having triggered a resurgence in the UV-C LED market, how do you see related business trends evolve in the coming years?

CL: Covid intensified the sensitivity around purification, cleanliness, and health. In our view, UV-C lighting will be an essential part of our everyday lives, and we expect a sustained interest in solutions that make our world cleaner and safer.

SL: In this context, how will the UV-C LED business evolve?

PM: The COVID-19 pandemic has created real momentum for the UV-C LED industry. From nearly $150 million in 2019, the UV-C LED device market has more than doubled in 2020 to reach ~$310 million. And it could have been even bigger if production capacity could have kept up with demand. With market growth now being triggered, we expect it to be worth more than $2.5 billion in 2025, driven first by air and surface applications and then water ones.

SL: Do you think UV-C LED could be a long-term solution to help eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic?

CL: Yes

UV-C LED – What are the current solutions and technical choices made by the lighting companies?

SL: Today, UV-C LED lifetimes are pretty short compared to general light sources. Do you see any improvements coming in the near future?

CL: When you think of the lifetime of general lighting LEDs at the very beginning, it had to and  did increase over many years. However, with the experience we gained within the development of high-quality LEDs over the last years, we are confident that we can also extend the lifetime of UV-C LEDs in the coming years.

SL: So far, there are virtually no product standards for UV-C systems. Is there an initiative to develop them?

JT: The UV-C devices are considered safe if they comply with the requirements of the international safety standards covering electrical, thermal, and mechanical properties and human exposure to electromagnetic fields and photobiological risks. Some publications give guidance on disinfection performance (e.g. CIE 155), but there is no standard to refer to common to all the UV-C based disinfection products that are put on the market. This lack of standards is recognized worldwide, and there are indeed initiatives to develop them. For example, in Europe, the IEC/TC 34 committee is working on international standardization for UV-C radiation with a germicidal effect. Anyway, developing and releasing a standard takes time, and it is not expected that standards will be available before 2 or 3 years.

SL: PISEO is a recognized test center for illumination devices. Do you see a lot of UV-C-based products appearing in the market?

JT: Indeed, it is a dynamic market with many new UV-C lighting products for new applications. There are products for the professional market: lighting products embedding air or surface disinfection UV-C based systems.

There are also many products for the consumer market (to disinfect air at home, disinfect personal belongings like mobile phones, sunglasses, keyboards…). However, especially for the consumer market, it is worrying to see products not mentioning the potential danger of UV-C radiation and without any means to protect people against exposure to UV-C.

SL: PISEO owns strong LED-based system design capabilities. What advantages and challenges do you see when integrating UV-C LEDs?

JT: Compared to traditional UV-C light sources, UV-C LED is small, and this advantage enables more compact products and new applications (portable devices…). While the lifetime of UV-C LEDs used in continuous mode is not yet significantly higher than for low-pressure mercury lamps, a clear advantage of UV-C LEDs is for systems with on/off cycles.

Indeed, on/off cycles do not affect the lifetime of a UV-C LED, while they can drastically reduce the lifetime of a low-pressure mercury lamp. Another advantage is the ignition time: UV-C LEDs turn on instantaneously when powered, while low-pressure mercury lamps require a warm-up time of one to several minutes.

We have already mentioned UVC-LED’s wavelength advantage, as they are available at 265nm – the optimal wavelength to inactivate a microorganism – whereas low-pressure mercury lamps have a peak wavelength at 254 nm. Finally, UV-C LEDs are RoHS compliant while low-pressure mercury lamps are not.

The policy to ban mercury is therefore not a concern for UV-C LEDs.

Besides the advantages, there are also some challenges when integrating UV-C LEDs. The efficacy of UV-C LEDs is much lower than for LEDs in the visible domain, meaning that the UV-C LEDs generate more heat. Heat directly impacts the performance and the lifetime of LEDs – with UV-C LEDs, it is even more challenging and requires specific knowledge to design a reliable product.

For good disinfection, it is vital to ensure that the total surface, air, or water volume receives the required dose to inactivate the microorganism. Therefore, the system design must consider the LED’s optical distribution.

The low power of UV-C LEDs is also a challenge. When higher power is required, the number of LEDs needed to be integrated can be significant, therefore costly. Moreover, in the long term, UV-C radiation can degrade materials, and the property of materials can be different between the UV-C domain and the visible domain, so the choice of the materials for a UV-C LED system (optics…) is critical.

To conclude…

SL: In this context, what are the next steps for ams OSRAM?

HJL: We are working on our portfolio to ensure we have an optimal offering for each of our customers, now with outstanding application support as well as the R&D and operational excellence of ams OSRAM as a reliable partner.

More information on ams OSRAM’s UV-C expertise can be found here.

SL: And what is PISEO’s final word?

JT: UV-C light sources have proven to be a good and efficient way to disinfect surfaces, volumes, and water by inactivating microorganisms. The Sars-Cov-2 pandemic has led to a booming UV-C disinfection market. Reducing cost and increasing performance trends of the UV-C LEDs will continue to enable more and more innovative technologies at the system level. In the meantime, proper system design will remain a critical issue to create efficient and secured disinfection devices and installations.


Dr. Christian Leirer studied Physics and received a Ph.D. from the University of Augsburg, Germany. After several years in project management at OSRAM Opto Semiconductors and in strategy consulting, he joined OSRAM again in 2020 as responsible product manager for the UV-C LED business. Christian today works as director for product management at ams-OSRAM.

Dr. Hans-Jürgen Lugauer received a Ph.D. in 1999 in physics from the University of Würzburg, Germany. During this time, he significantly contributed to the development of BeZnCdSe based green laser diodes. In 1999, he joined the InGaN epitaxy group in the R&D department of OSRAM Opto Semiconductors. As senior manager in the pre-development group of ams-OSRAM he is responsible for the evaluation of novel AlInGaN based light-emitting devices, currently focusing on the development of high-power UV-C LEDs.

Pars Mukish is a Business Unit Manager, Solid-State Lighting (SSL) & Display at Yole Développement (Yole).

Pars’ mission is dedicated to the development of SSL and display activities (i.e., laser diode, LED, and OLED). He actively assists and supports the development of strategic projects, working with leading customers of the company.

Pars manages the ongoing expansion of technical and market expertise of the SSL & Display team.

Pars holds a master’s in Materials Science & Polymers (ITECH – France) and a master’s in Innovation & Technology Management (EM Lyon – France).

Joël Thome is CEO at PISEO. He holds a master’s in mechanical engineering and has engaged in supplementary international executive training in marketing and innovation management.  Joël has more than 25 years of industrial experience in the field of innovation. For many years, he held international positions in R&D and business line management within the lighting division of the Philips group. He notably participated in the transformation of the company’s product portfolio through the integration of LED technology and lighting control functions. Joël has been managing and developing Piséo since 2013 and, together with his R&D and lab teams, supports the company’s customers in their photonics innovation projects.

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