The University of Santa Barbara, California, is leading the way in developing ultraviolet technology which could be used as an air and surface disinfectant in the fight against Covid-19.
Nobel Prize winner, Professor Shuji Nakamura, head of materials at the university, has been spearheading the development of LED lighting in ultraviolet technology for over 15 years. While the technology is not widely used, Nakamura and his team are seeking to challenge the current situation.
The main thrust of their research has been focused on developing small scale LED UV lights, around the size of the flash on a cellphone. They realised this technology could be augmented by changing the UV wavelengths to cleanse personal protective equipment with the hope it could extend to surface and air cleaning too.
Although the team realise it is not ready for this larger scale development yet, they believe they can utilise it for things like purifying home air conditioning outlets which could supplement the common HEPA filter. The hope is that they can upscale it to the point where it can be used to disinfect entire buildings.
Many hospitals already use UV disinfectant technology, however, they predominantly use mercury lighting to do this. This poses both a mercury contamination risk together with a harmful level of exposure to UVs. LED lighting provides a less harmful and more environmentally friendly alternative while also being more energy efficient and portable.
It is important to note, however, that although the use of LED minimises the risk, there is still some way to go. Currently, to prevent skin and eye irritation to patients, the patients have to leave the area where the disinfection is being carried out. It is essential that if the technology is to become widely used, the power of portable disinfectant lights is controlled and the risks to humans is minimised.
Professor Steven DenBarrs, a senior member of Nakamura’s team commented: “If we could get it working for airplanes and closed spaces like cars, they could be used to create air purifiers where there are closed spaces. It could also be applied to cruise ships where we saw a lot of contamination. If we can work quickly to figure out the power and wavelengths to purify air that would have a huge impact on the spread of this virus because it is easily airborne.”
It is hoped with Nakamura and his team at the helm, this crucial technology could become a reality in the near future.