The discovery of UV light has created a profound impact on the air, water, and surface disinfection market. As UV technology keeps evolving, we’re seeing UV LED alternatives to traditional UV bulbs more frequently.
While UV discharge lamps and UV LEDs have both proven to be effective at inactivating microorganisms, the popularity of UV LED technology, in particular, has increased over the years. In fact, scientists predict that by 2023, the global UV LED market will reach $1,163.5 million!
In this article, we aim to give you an objective comparison of both technologies. It will help you understand the extent to which UV LEDs can provide an alternative to traditional UV solutions, giving you a better grasp of the technology using them as well as avoid possible scams or low-quality products on the market.
UV LEDs vs. UV Bulbs: What’s the Difference?
While physicians can engineer both devices to emit UV-C light, the fundamental difference between them is the type of radiation emitted. While all UV-C light is germicidal, it varies by intensity. Therefore, different types of UV-C light will require different exposure times for effective 99.99% disinfection.
UV lamps emit narrow and fixed wavelength spectral lines while UV LEDs emit narrow and selectable wavelengths. This means that UV LEDs can offer the flexibility of selecting the specific intensity of UV light desired.
Knowing that each pathogen varies in its sensitivity to specific UV wavelengths, the ability to select a particular wavelength is beneficial. It enables UV-LED technology to target and disinfect specific molecular bonds effectively.
2. Usage of Mercury
Although UV disinfection is a safer option than chemical disinfectants such as bleach, all conventional UV lamps contain several milligrams of mercury in liquid or amalgam form.
Mercury lamps are easy targets to breakage during transportation, improper handling, and operation. This increases the risk of exposure to people and the environment. Mercury exposure can have harmful effects on the body and even be fatal.
On the other hand, UV LED technology provides a safer alternative. It contains no mercury or toxic materials. Therefore, there’s no risk of contamination in case of improper installation or breakage. Furthermore, since UV LEDs do not emit specific wavelengths for ozone creation, they offer a more sustainable production process.
This advantage has created new opportunities in the medical field, where conventional UV lamps with mercury are not allowed for safety reasons.
3. Energy Use
Conventional UV bulbs require about 5-10 minutes to warm up.
On the other hand, UV LEDs offer high-intensity UV-C light output that you can turn on and off without warm-up times. Because UV LED technology is not impacted by this on/off cycle, it is eligible for unlimited lamp cycling.
Researchers claim that the lifetime of UV-C LED lamps is of more than 5000 hours, meaning that they can have replacement intervals of over 10 years. Meanwhile, depending on the environment as well as how you use them, mercury lamps will need replacing periodically.
Having said that, UV lamps are advantageous for prolonged continuous operation and UV-C LEDs are perfect for rapid disinfection and flexible running times.
4. Application Flexibility
In comparison to UV LEDs, UV lamps are heavier and bigger. This does limit their application, so they’re usually installed with fixtures or combined with other applications.
Alternatively, UV LEDs are compact and integrable with various appliances including air purifiers, air conditioners, and even portable products.
If it were for durability, UV LEDs would’ve probably already replaced traditional lamps in most disinfection applications.
While prices of UV LEDs are coming down, they are generally more expensive. UV mercury lamps have a lower production cost and, as a result, they still are dominant in the market.
You should keep this in mind when selecting UV light products, especially if they are portable and handheld. Even though UV LED technology is becoming more common, it’s easy to mistake regular LEDs for UV LEDs. This has, sadly, resulted in many cheap, ineffective, and even fake products, such as cheap UV cleansers, on the market.
For all the benefits stated above, UVC-LEDs have emerged as a viable technology for disinfection.
Not only has it offered itself as an environmentally-friendly alternative to mercury lamps, but it has also overcome several disadvantages associated with UV lamps. The improved device structure, the increased efficiency, and the lowering costs have made the LED industry a leader in the lighting industry and opened new opportunities for many industries.
As UV LED technology develops further and becomes less expensive, it may replace traditional UV bulbs completely in the future.
Despite the differences stated above, both technologies emit UV-C light. This means that if not handled carefully, they can cause damage to human skin and eyes. Therefore, no matter which of the two you’re using, be sure to be wearing protective equipment such as gloves and goggles.