Thanks to its compactness, lower cost of ownership and environmental friendly composition, UV LEDs continue replacing traditional UV lamps in incumbent applications, predicts a new market study from Yole. Currently the main application field is curing. UV LEDs will also create new applications, especially portable ones. Hence, UV LED business is expected to grow from $32.5M in 2011 to more than $150M in 2016: within this period, UV LED market (M$) will grow by a factor x5 whereas the traditional UV lamps market will only grow by a factor x1.5.
According to the market researcher, in 2011 LEDs kept on being sold mostly in the UVA/B spectrum (especially in upper wavelengths, between 365 to 400 nm). More than 90% of the UV LED market (outside of R&D) was still covered by UV curing, counterfeit detection and medical & instrumentation applications requiring UVA/B sources. Concerning UVC LEDs, they were still mainly sold for R&D and scientific instrumentation purpose, but 2012 should see the commercialization of the first UV LED based purification system. UVA (400-315nm) business is currently the main UV LED market and will remain so for at least the next 5 years.
The booming UV LED market has attracted several new players from different backgrounds over the past years: traditional mercury lamp suppliers, traditional UV curing systems suppliers, pure UV LED curing system suppliers, visible LED suppliers, substrate suppliers… Each player addressing a different strategy to capture the maximum of value created by this disruptive technology.
At the device level, Asian companies, especially Japanese and Taiwanese ones, have taken the lead on the UV LED market but recently, some Chinese companies have also entered the field: this should increase competition, reduce prices and enable mass applications at middle/long term.
Beyond that, as for visible LEDs few years ago, the value chain is consolidating with the arrival of pure players at the packaging and system level mainly. This process creates the chances to increase the performance of UV LEDs with specific package developments, and to facilitate technological transition with traditional UV system manufacturers.
Water & Air purification are the next potential high volume applications for UVC LEDs. In 2011, the UVC LED industry achieved a new milestone of structuration. Crystal IS has been acquired by Asahi Kasei (large Japanese group). Dot Metrics, the first pure UV LED water purification company, announced they (in partnership with Aquionics) will launch a first commercial product in 2012. SETi announced the increase of its production capacity by a factor x6 with $20M investment.
In parallel, numerous research results published in 2011 have demonstrated an impressive improvement of the optical power output of UV LEDs: up to x10 compared to 2010. Hence, Yole expects that UVC LEDs should penetrate those key applications in 2014 after having completely solved the efficiency, lifetime and cost challenges.