As innovative LED technologies continue to appear, new uses for said technologies emerge in the same step. Using funding from the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation, researchers at the Ohio State University recently unlocked a novel technique for growing LEDs on thin metal foils. Called unique deep-ultraviolet (DUV) LEDs, the applications of such expertise is still being uncovered. One potential way that DUV-LEDs could help the world is through sterilization of medical equipment and purification of drinking water, particularly in the developing world. Phenomenally sharp LED calibration would be key here, as would the ability to amplify the DUVs to a level beyond what researchers have done so far, but the building blocks are in place.
In modern times, UV lamps have been the primary light source used for detecting pathogens in water as well as on equipment that must be pristine. But these UV lamps, although generally effective in detection and destruction of pathogens, have significant drawbacks: they are large and cumbersome, not easily deployed in remote locations. The UV lamps also have a chance for mercury contamination, a fear that has grown in recent years. Because of this, DUV-LED lamps are looked at as a possible alternative with a big future.
The key will be modification to get DUV-LED technology up to the power that UV lamps, which are currently used to purify water, are at. Before the Ohio State University study, the only way known to make DUV-LEDs was extremely costly and used exceedingly pure single-crystal semiconductors. This was not a system that would have successful commercial applications at a widespread level. Researchers found, however, that by using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), and placing them on tiny metal foils, they could create DUV-LEDs at a size of about 200 nanometers: almost comparable to the crystal semiconductor technique, but at a fraction of the price.
If the process can evolve to where the DUV-LEDs are comparable to UV lamps, the results could be revolutionary. Researchers involved in the project seemed confident they can get there in the future. Once DUV-LEDs can be brought up to power, their lightweight size and low cost could make deploying them around the world to purify water the leading way to provide clean drinking water. Advancements like these are at the forefront of technology and will require extensive consistent LED calibration. Gooch & Housego is a leader in the field with 40 years of experience and looks forward to the next advance.