NUS News

Cost-effective solution that leverages fans as air purifiers

A team of researchers from NUS’ Faculty of Engineering has developed a cost-effective solution for the control of indoor air pollution, especially from the haze. The development of this system is timely in light of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent news on the risks of inhalation of particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), which has been linked to a range of cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, including cancer. The new system is easy to use and ideal for use in a range of indoor environments.

Essentially, the invention developed by the NUS team, led by Associate Professor Jeff Obbard from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, is a filtration system that is designed for use with a domestic ventilation fan to remove PM2.5 from indoor air. The system is also able to reduce levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are typically associated with the odour from haze pollution.

Assoc Prof Obbard said: “In Singapore, we typically spend about 90 per cent of our time indoors, and we have successfully commercialised this research discovery so that everyone can benefit from a cost-efficient way of swiftly and effectively reducing PM2.5 pollutants in indoor air.”

Assoc Prof Obbard explained that people are constantly exposed to PM2.5 indoors as a result of pollutants generated from household activities, such as cleaning and cooking, as well as from pets and smoking. Indoor air quality is also affected by PM2.5 that seeps into homes and offices from the haze, traffic fumes and industrial emissions.

“This new system is designed to filter out particulates down to at least 0.3 microns in size—almost 10 times smaller than the PM2.5 WHO standard. It will also help to reduce the burning smell associated with the haze,” he said.

How the system works

The NUS filtration system has been specifically designed to fit onto standing, floor and wall fans that are widely used in Singapore and other parts of Asia. The system delivers an optimal airflow to quickly clear the air of PM2.5, and also suppresses new PM2.5 that is constantly being generated. Contaminated air passes through the system many times each hour, which then scrubs the air of PM2.5 and VOCs.

“It is important for any system to cover every corner of the room” said Assoc Prof Obbard, “We reduce PM2.5 where it matters most—in the air that we breathe, not just at the filter itself.”

Typically, the system reduces PM2.5 concentrations in a room by up to 85 per cent in 30 to 60 minutes.

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The system can be used effectively in both semi-naturally ventilated and air-conditioned spaces. Assoc Prof Obbard noted that he had been surprised to discover from his research that air-conditioning units did not always provide adequate protection against PM2.5, and could even be a source of PM2.5 if not well maintained.

Air purifiers on the market today can cost several hundred dollars each, which means that many families could, at best, afford only a single unit, if at all. This would be insufficient for the entire home.

“Our goal is to provide everyone in Singapore with affordable protection against PM2.5 exposure at a fraction of the price of a regular air purifier,” said Assoc Prof Obbard. “We wouldn’t think of drinking a cloudy glass of water, and equally we should all breathe the cleanest air possible.”

The new system comprises a special filter and a cover that fits snugly over the fan, quickly converting it into an air purifier. The simple, but efficient system is designed for cost-effective use in hospitals, care homes and community centres, and is competitively priced.

More effective than a standard air purifier

The NUS filtration system has been scientifically tested in a range of indoor environments including homes, offices, hotels and student hostels. Independent tests found that the NUS filtration system was about twice as effective as a branded air purifier in removing and suppressing PM2.5 in a large indoor space because of its superior air flow.

The system has also been tested in severe haze conditions. Assoc Prof Obbard took the system to Pekanbaru in the Riau Province of Indonesia in February this year when there were more than 1,000 hotspots in Sumatra. The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) there was above 750. He conducted tests in a Pekanbaru school classroom where the PM2.5 level was nine times over the “safe limit”, as defined by the WHO. Even though the classroom was naturally ventilated, the system achieved a dramatic reduction in PM2.5 levels within a short time span. In a separate test, the system also successfully reduced PM2.5 concentrations in a house in Pekanbaru to safe levels.

The technology has been licensed exclusively to AiRazor Technologies for commercialisation by the NUS Industry Liaison Office, which is part of NUS Enterprise. AiRazor was founded by Assoc Prof Obbard, Mr Andrew Yap, and Mr K J Tan.

AirRazor’s filtration system consists of a filter that slips on an AiRazor fan, which is designed to optimise the effects of the filter, with an attachment cover. Three models are available: AR100 (S$150), AR200 (S$175) and AR300 (S$225). Customers can also purchase an adaptor, which consists of the filter and attachment cover, for S$50 or less, if they would like to adapt their existing fans into an air purifier.

AiRazor’s haze control system, and other related products, will be available on AiRazor’s website by mid-June. AiRazor is also launching its product range in Taiwan, and other Asian markets.