Scientists say new device cleans virus, bacteria and other pathogens from the air


A team of U.S. researchers has created a device that uses X-rays to clean the air of viruses, bacteria and other particles that are toxic or hazardous to human health.

The scientists, who presented this novelty in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, argue that their invention called ESP SXC, can improve the quality of life for patients with respiratory diseases and allergies and that it increases safety in the operating room. They also say the device would be useful even in the case of a bio-terror attack.

Electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) work to eliminate these harmful agents through a process of ionization. However, experts admit that its validity is reduced when the elements to catch are ultra small.

The so-called HEPA filters (High Efficiency Particulate Air) are also used to clean the air, but they do not clean a room’s air if they are not cleaned regularly. To overcome these drawbacks, Eric M. Kettleson, Jill M. Schriewer, R. Mark L. Buller and Biswas Pratim have added a soft X-ray system to an ESP emitter, with which they are able to protect their lab tests while conducting immunodeficient experiments on mice which are subjected to a wide range of pathogens.

The next step, say these teachers from the universities of Washington, Cincinnati and St. Louis, would lead to having ESP SXC in houses and public buildings at a low costs. Setting up the ESPs is not complicated at all say the creators.

In tests conducted by the scientists who invented the ESP SXC, the air cleaners are shown to be up to nine times more efficient than current devices. The technology is known as Soft X-ray Enhanced Electrostatic Precipitation, which is believed to protect against inhalable Allergens, ultrafine particles, and microbial infections.

“Protection of the human lung from infectious agents, allergens, and ultrafine particles is difficult with current technologies. HEPA filters remove airborne particles >0.3 μm with 99.97% efficiency, but are expensive to maintain. Electrostatic precipitation has been used as an inexpensive approach to remove large particles from airflows, but has a collection efficiency minimum in the sub-micrometer size range allowing for a penetration window for some allergens and ultrafine particles,” says the document published by the scientists.

In laboratory tests, X-ray enhanced electrostatic precipitation targets infectious agents such as B. anthracis, M. bovis-BCG, and poxviruses, among others. The use of soft X-ray electrostatic currents are introduced at low-intensity levels, which results in a two-fold to nine-fold increase in capture efficiency, say the creators of the ESP SXC. The device is able to capture particles that measure between 200 and 600nm. At high intensities, the air cleaner captures nearly all viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens that were test subjects in the laboratory assessment.

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