Brilliant Photonics’ UV-C commercial lighting system to disinfect COVID-19 virus

Coronavirus structural morphology

Brilliant Photonics is well known for developing high-tech industrial lighting systems for the agricultural and horticultural industries. Now the Kitchener, Ont. company is adding another market to its list – industrial disinfection technology to help kill viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.

They are utilizing the high intensity of ultra-violet (UV)-C radiation – long used as a virus and bacteria disinfection method for air, surfaces and water. Invisible to the human eye, UV light is divided into UV-A, UV-B and UV-C, with UV-C being the shortest wavelength and most intense part of the ultraviolet light spectrum.

Using the more powerful deep UV-C LED irradiation, recent research points to the effectiveness in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, current UV-C LED systems are not powerful enough for commercial applications and are generally used inside small containers to achieve the dose required for effective disinfection, says Brilliant Photonics‘ CEO Kevin LeBlanc.

His company is looking to harness the more recent technology of UV-C LED lighting that packs a much higher power density to disinfect larger surface areas at higher rates and with more effectiveness. But the company faces a challenge they can’t solve alone.

“We are developing a light fixture capable of producing three radiometric watts of radiant power at 265nm spectrum that could rapidly disinfect viruses on surfaces at more than three metres distance,” says LeBlanc, adding the goal is to retrofit their current horticultural lighting system to support UV-C and partner with commercial cleaning services to disinfect places such as hospitals, long-term care homes, schools, factories and other commercial environments.

However, UV-C LEDs get much hotter than conventional LEDs, and as a result, their output power is limited. To achieve more power levels required for commercial-scale application for UV-C disinfecting, high-performance cooling systems are required.

While the company has designed a prototype, complete with liquid cooling technology, the challenge with their current product is that it’s costly and difficult to manufacture at high volumes since every part has to be CNC machined. They sought expert help from Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at Niagara College to help reduce manufacturing costs and complexity.

“Students get real industry experience, the College receives equipment and industry engagement and we get the professional engineers and machines required for innovation.”
~ Kevin LeBlanc, CEO, Brilliant Photonics 

“By reducing thermal resistance, LEDs can be placed closer together thus producing greater photon density,” explains LeBlanc. “In order to match the thermal performance required for the highest power density, we must produce our system with costly copper components.” 

Through an earlier project, with funding through the National Research Council of Canada – Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), the WAMIC team was able to distill the company’s concepts into a more readily-manufactured prototype design involving a proposed combination of high-temperature 3D plastic printing, machining of an aluminum housing, and machining of a copper heatsink.

“I took the design review process seriously and we quickly iterated through several impactful design revisions making the product with less material, much easier to manufacture and with performance improvements that will permit us to increase our full spectrum lighting power from 600W to 900W on a five-inch light module,” says LeBlanc.  

In its current project with WAMIC – under a grant from the NC-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), backed by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) – Brilliant Photonics is working with researchers to further improve the prototype design manufacturing.

The research team is working with the company to develop a high-temperature 3D-printed reflector cone, machined finned copper heat sink and aluminum electrical housing and water housing.

“The project is particularly challenging as the heat sink fins are very slender and may vibrate (chatter) when machining,” explains WAMIC research lead Allan Spence, PhD. “A low RPM slot mill with a horizontal 4th axis will be used. Adding pipe threads is also delicate, and a thread mill will be used to produce that feature. Sealing to avoid water leakage will require very flat mating surfaces.”

Brilliant Photonics plans to take a finalized prototype for product testing to the Canadian Centre for Product Validation. The goal is for the technology to support a range of products, including a handheld lamp, mobile handcart, wall/ceiling mountable, chambers, air filters and water systems.

LeBlanc describes the partnership with Niagara College as a win for everyone: “Students gets real industry experience, the College receives equipment and industry engagement and we get the professional engineers and machines required for innovation. 

“The research team had a lot more experience than I expected, and as a result, I was able to fully engage in rapid product design cycles and received professional advice from an industry expert who then trained students on how to use the machines and produce the parts.” 

For more information about the applied research and technical services offered at Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, visit the website.