AgResearch and its partners have secured funding to develop a unique technology that uses different forms of light to kill the virus causing COVID-19 and other harmful viruses that can linger in commercial and public places.

Scientists from AgResearch will work with colleagues from Massey University and Christchurch firm Energylight Group Ltd in researching light combinations that can be used to sanitise surfaces and circulating air, particularly where industrial scale use of chemical disinfectants or other sterilisation methods are unsuitable.

The project has been granted $300,000 from the government’s COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund. AgResearch brings its experience in light treatments and combating micro-organisms for the food sector to the project.

Scientists overseas have been looking at the use of Ultraviolet (UVC) light to sanitise against viruses. However, AgResearch science team leader Dr Gale Brightwell says current estimates show extremely high intensity treatments and exposure times are needed to kill viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19.

“What we are looking to do is combine UVC light with blue light (from the visible light spectrum), through LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), to significantly improve the speed and efficiency of the antiviral treatment,” Dr Brightwell says.

“A major benefit of blue light LED is it is significantly more energy efficient than UVC LED, generating much less heat and therefore requiring less cooling, and it means any product that delivers the light combination will be significantly smaller and cheaper. The blue light also reduces any risk to people from irradiation, having been safely used on wounds and for acne treatment. It also has better penetration and we will be testing its effectiveness on different materials such as plastics, glass, paper and fabrics.”

“Once we have proven the light combination is effective, there will be potential to move to develop and test prototype combinations for commercial light fittings that can sterilise surfaces, disinfect circulating air, and treat parcels/baggage – all with minimal management day to day. Examples could be for use in airports, shopping malls and public toilets.”

Energylight managing director Ralph Booth says: “The team at Energylight Group has been exploring the effects of light on human biology for some time now and is excited to be part of a project researching the potential that light has at disinfecting against viruses and other pathogens”.

Dr Brightwell says another major advantage of light sanitisation over other sterilisation methods is that it is not known to result in micro-organisms developing resistance to the treatment.

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