Emerging Trends in UV Disinfection

April 30, 2007

About the author: Jon McClean is president of Aquionics Inc. and divisional managing director of the Halma UV Co.’s. He can be reached at 859/341-0710 or by e-mail at [email protected].

The UV disinfection industry has experienced tremendous growth over the last 20 years. The development of new UV technologies over this period is a perfect example of an industry investing to meet market demand—in this case, demand for an effective, low-cost, and environmentally friendly disinfection technology.

The acceptance of UV disinfection at water plants that treat an excess of 1 billion gal daily is proof that UV is no longer an emerging technology, but rather an accepted technology used routinely by engineers to safeguard human health. The UV industry continues to change, grow and invent new products and applications. This article briefly explores some of the emerging trends.

Industry maturity

Virtually all of the leading innovative, entrepreneurial UV companies have now been acquired by major, multi-product, financially mature industrial groups such as Danaher, Halma, Siemens, ITT and Suez. This has induced market stability, and while this will ensure highly professional product offerings and delivery, it also means that many of these newly acquired companies must either become or remain profitable to justify the investment made in them.

The regulatory acceptance of UV for treating drinking water (particularly in the U.S.) and regulatory standards for validating new UV reactor designs signal a major shift in the acceptance of the technology into the mainstream.

The UV industry has experienced double-digit sales growth over the last 20 years, and combined annual sales of UV products will soon be in excess of $500 million.

The formation of the International Ultraviolet Association (IUVA) in 1999 provided a forum for information dissemination and self-regulation, and the U.S. EPA UV Disinfection Guidance Manual to assist engineers and owners in the design, operation and maintenance of UV systems, will further standardize the use of UV.

New technology

The use of computational fluid dynamics modeling has vastly improved manufacturers’ ability to confidently predict the level of treatment required for unique waters using their proprietary equipment. System sizing is no longer a black art, because the selected manufacturer can work with the design engineer to accurately predict treatment levels under varying conditions of water quality and flow. All UV equipment manufacturers will soon use this tool to optimize the dose delivery of their reactors and minimize energy costs.

As manufacturers develop and improve optimized reactors, they will then validate the designs using EPA or European validation protocols. These optimized reactors will be rolled out over the next several years.

Conventional UV lamp technology will also improve. Medium-pressure lamps will continue to see gains in energy efficiency, lamp life and power density, with Quartz coating techniques extending lamp life to well over 12,000 hours. This approach will remain favored for compact, small footprint installations—particularly retrofit—or where automated wiping is required. Low-pressure, high-output lamps will also have increasing power, perhaps approaching 1kW, and will decrease footprint and maintenance requirements. Lamp disposal will emerge as a significant issue for low-pressure UV installations, which use many thousands of low-pressure lamps.

New UV light sources such as light- emitting diodes (LEDs) claim to be a technology of the future. The advantages of LEDs include their ability to concentrate virtually all of the electrical power into a very narrow bandwidth of 260 to 262 nm, their vastly superior power efficiencies and a very long lamp life (reported to be greater than 100,000 hours). Because of their point-source nature, they are not restricted to conventional cylindrical designs. Drawbacks of this promising technology will likely be in the power supply drives for the lamps, which remain largely in the concept phase. Other lamp types such as excimer lamps show some advantages, like being mercury-free and having no warm-up time, but are currently limited by low power efficiency and high ballast costs. The excimers are often more toxic than the elements they propose to replace.

Another interesting technology involves the use of microwaves to energize a UV lamp without the use of electrodes. Developers claim to have produced power outputs of up to 1,000 watts with similar UV outputs to low-pressure lamps, which would dramatically improve the footprint and maintenance of low-pressure, lamp-based systems. The absence of electrodes also greatly increases the lamp life. This development could well see microwave power supply emerge as the consumable, with the lamp remaining in situ for four to five years. The long-term effects of using microwaves on sleeve wipers remain unknown.

UV sensor technology has also greatly improved over the last decade with stable, reliable and germicidally accurate sensors, as well as a well-regulated calibration protocol, now in place and available. In addition, manufacturers have improved the proprietary control systems for taking information from the sensors, flow meters and other monitoring devices and using this information to optimize the performance of their equipment. They can also interface with the operator at a plant’s control center.

The D10 values1 of more and more microorganisms are now known, with the list growing all the time. Most notably, research has confirmed the very low doses of UV required to disinfect Cryptosporidium and Giardia, while also finding several viruses that have an unusually high D10. As new applications for UV are found, new microbes will be added to existing D10 tables.

A major concern to the UV industry is the issue of reactivation—the apparent ability of some microorganisms to repair the damage done to their DNA by UV, reactivating their ability to infect. DNA repair can occur in a closed (dark) system, but is more likely in open systems under direct sunlight (photoreactivation). The dose level and lamp type seem to affect the degree of reactivation, with microorganisms under low-pressure, single wavelength UV lamps appearing to be more susceptible to photoreactivation than medium-pressure, multi-wavelength lamps. A much larger research effort put into the area of photoreactivation is required and will most likely be forthcoming over the next five years.

A significant amount of research has also targeted the question of UV disinfection byproducts (DBPs), specifically the most common water constituents such as chlorine, bromide, nitrate, ozone, NOM2 and iron. At normal UV disinfection doses, no significant DBPs have been shown to form. Research continues with more exotic water constituents.

New markets

By far the greatest potential market for UV disinfection is drinking water. UV is now accepted as an available technology to deactivate Cryptosporidium and Giardia in surface water and other vulnerable sources.

From 1997 to the present, growth in this market has been generally slow due to several factors: the uncertainty of sensitivity of Cryptosporidium and Giardia to UV; the lack of a regulatory framework for UV disinfection; the lack of a guidance manual; the lack of case histories and engineering knowledge in the application of UV in drinking water plants; the general conservatism of the water industry; and finally, the uncertainty of the outcome of several court cases considering a royalty on the use of UV for Cryptosporidium and Giardia destruction. All of these issues have now either been resolved or resolutions are imminent, paving the way for rapid growth in this market.

Another UV application with much potential is wastewater reuse for irrigation and grey water applications. Reuse is already common in the U.S. southwest and other areas of acute fresh water shortages such as Florida, Mexico, southern Europe, the Middle East and Australia. UV systems for this market are validated to much higher doses than drinking water systems according to protocols established by the National Water Research Institute. Drinking water type product validation, with the accompanying rigor, will emerge as the dominant method of assessing suitability for these critical applications. The ability to prevent photoreactivation will also emerge as key.

Another new market for UV is disinfecting reclaimed wastewater for aquifer storage and recovery. This involves pumping highly treated wastewater into aquifers to recharge drinking water supplies. California, Texas and Florida are all considering this approach.

Finally, UV for advanced oxidation involves the use of UV, either by itself or in combination with the hydroxyl radical, to break down contaminants in water. This technology has already been successfully used for groundwater remediation, industrial wastewater treatment and drinking water treatment. Most notably, several large advanced oxidation projects have involved the use of advanced oxidation for NDMA3, MTBE4, pesticides, taste and odor compounds, and chlorinated solvents.


The UV industry has matured considerably over the last decade and is now highly regulated and dominated by major water companies. Conventional UV technologies have been field-tested and now have considerable track records in a wide range of applications. Uncertainties surrounding regulations, royalties, technology and engineering have decreased and acceptance of UV is expected to grow rapidly over the next 20 years.

Conventional UV designs have been greatly aided by CFD, which will be used as a routine sizing tool for future designs. Incremental improvements in conventional lamps, sensors and controls will also continue over the next decade.

New technologies such as LED lamps and microwave lamps promise further improvements in electrical efficiency, footprint and cost.

The stage is now set for dramatic growth in the drinking water market, especially if new technologies can bring increased efficiency and lower costs.

Other applications like wastewater reuse and aquifer storage and recovery are smaller and will grow at slower rates, but are still attractive applications for UV. The use of UV for advanced oxidation is still in its infancy and is highly dependent on energy costs. These markets will grow dramatically when newer, more energy efficient technologies are available.

About the Author

Jon McClean