Now, researchers have developed an interesting new use for the stuff – the elimination of potentially dangerous viruses floating in the air. Heatless (or cold) plasma has been around for many years for a version of this technology is connected to power plants to stop the release of particles into the atmosphere. It can also be used for food bans.
In fact, cold plasma is very good at its job; it can kill 99.9 percent of airborne viruses, say researchers at the University of Michigan. Their research is published in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics. Some viruses (say, measles) can survive a few kilometers in the air. It’s a part of what makes them so contagious. But it makes them so difficult to defend.
Herek Clack, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Michigan, said in a statement, “The most difficult way to prevent infection is through the airways because we have relatively little protection when we breathe.”
The new technology uses cooling plasmas, ionized particles formed around the electric discharge. The furnace they built, designed for buildings, contains borosilicate glass beads, which were packed in a cylindrical shape. The air passes through the gaps between the furnace and the beads, where the virus is inactivated. “Beyond packed beds, airborne pathogens are oxidized by temporary atoms called radicals.” Clack said, “In these spaces, you’re starting sparks.”
Krista Wigginton, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said in a statement. “The results tell us that continuous plasma treatment is very effective in inactivating airborne viruses.” In fact, it was able to deactivate or remove 99.9 percent of a test virus, achieving results in a fraction of a second.
Wigginton said, “There is limited technology for air disinfection, so this is an important find.” Clack added, It is likely to work “better, faster and cheaper” than conventional filters.
In the future, they hope that a variety of these technologies can be used as a (more effective) replacement for surgical masks. At the moment, researchers are taking their work to pig farms. The pig farm in question knows it has been infected with the animal so Clock and his team plan to test the effectiveness of their device in the air emitted from buildings.
At a later stage, Clack says, there will be “humanitarian application”. It will involve minimizing the technology currently adapted for buildings so that it becomes a device you can wear. The end result – one day, not too far away, we will all probably be carrying our own bug-killers.