Let’s be honest. After the corona crisis, the fear of a new wave of a contagion will remain. Which means: wash your hands thoroughly, maybe say goodbye to handling cash forever, and certainly disinfect whatever you can. As long as it’s convenient. But cleaning a mobile phone with soap and water is not that simple.

Fortunately, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany have now devised an innovative solution for disinfecting smartphones. This ensures that these devices can get rid of bacteria and viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 within seconds. Instead of expensive chemicals, use is made of what is known as UVC light. This new technology can also be used in many other applications, according to the institute.

Disinfection is essential in clinical environments

Smartphones, tablets and the like are handled innumerable times each day. In most cases though, hygiene considerations play a rather minor role. Yet this is far more important in professional environments such as hospitals and clinics. Especially at the moment. Tablets and smartphones are used for work purposes in these places. They are often passed from hand to hand across various departments as well. Disinfection is therefore absolutely imperative in order to prevent the transmission of pathogens.

Nevertheless, it’s not wise to use any chemical products here, as this ruins the grease-repellent screen coatings. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Ilmenau have come up with a technical innovation for this purpose. From the outside, the device resembles a regular microwave oven. Except that what is used inside are what’s called UVC LEDs. These are luminescent diodes that work with ultraviolet light. They have a wavelength of 269 nm.

Destruction of bacteria and viruses

There are two separate UVC LED modules in total. With 10 UVC LEDs each for the top and bottom of the smartphone that has been placed inside. Each UVC LED has an output of 100 milliwatts so that means the total emitted output is 2 watts. This ensures that an exposure level of 800 J/m² is achieved in just a few seconds, resulting in bacteria and viruses being effectively destroyed.

Not only does this solution disinfect smartphones using light, it can also identify them independently using an NFC reader and registers the applied dose using a sensor which stores that. This allows each disinfection process to be validated and clearly attributed to the respective device. An LCD display informs the user about the most important functionalities. In addition, downstream IT systems can be integrated via WiFi and a web interface.

Possible applications for events

“For many years, we’ve been working on a wide range of applications for UVC technologies in the area of disinfection as part of the BMBF ‘Advanced UV for Life‘ program. LEDs offer great advantages, which we are able to prove perfectly with our smartphone disinfection example,” Fraunhofer IOSB-AST engineer Thomas Westerhoff explains.

The application areas for mobile phone disinfection vary from the clinical sector to private and commercial use and to the entertainment and event-related market. The prototype is expected to be presented at the IFAT, the world’s largest trade fair for water, sewage, waste and raw materials management in Munich, Germany in September 2020.

Fraunhofer IOSB-AST is currently seeking more industry partners for commercial exploitation.

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