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Plant-based ionizers are small devices attached to living plants that are highly effective at removing aerosols.

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The purifying power of plants

26 Feb 2021

Plant-based ionizers are surprisingly effective at removing aerosols and could play an important role in preventing COVID-19 transmission.

Before the pandemic, few of us would have given thought to whether the air in a grocery store or our offices was safe. But now that we have to be concerned about the airborne transmission of COVID-19, air quality can sometimes be all we think about.

Air purifiers, such as ionizers, can help allay some of our concerns about air quality. Ionizers emit static electricity that helps draw floating particles towards surfaces where they will not be inhaled. Unfortunately, many ionizers emit harmful ozone gas as they operate.

Taking a leaf from nature, a team of scientists from A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) investigated whether plant-based ionizers could play a role in the fight against COVID-19. Plant-based ionizers are small devices attached to living plants that use the plant’s leaves to create an ionizing effect. Unlike normal ionizers made from mechanical parts, plant-based ionizers do not emit ozone.

Surprisingly, the team led by IMRE group leaders Ady Suwardi and Dan Daniel found that plant-based ionizers were even more effective than traditional ones. They found that it took 24 minutes for 95 percent of the aerosols in a room to dissipate with no ionizers running, a figure that dropped to 15 minutes with a traditional ionizer. However, it took just six minutes for a plant-based ionizer to achieve the same effect.

“In a windowless room, it may take up to 30 minutes for human-generated aerosol to clear,” said Daniel. “With proper usage of plant-based ionizers, the time it takes to clear the aerosol can be easily reduced to as low as six minutes.”

The team also used sophisticated simulations to show how efficient different types of plant-based ionizers would be in different spaces. The models showed that a large plant-based ionizer could provide enough clear air for a room as large as 40 square meters.

Currently, the researchers are working on other techniques for reducing the spread of COVID-19 indoors, like adding surfaces to a room so that aerosols will be more likely to settle on them.

“We are also actively involved in testing the efficacy of various mitigation measures on venues such as churches, restaurants and meeting rooms,” said Suwardi. “We work hand in hand with our sister institute, IHPC, which uses computational fluid dynamics to simulate the aerosol and airflow patterns in various settings.”

The A*STAR-affiliated researchers contributing to this research are from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC).

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References

Suwardi, A., Ooi, C.C., Daniel, D., Ivan, T., Li, H., et al. The efficacy of plant-based ionizers in removing aerosol for COVID-19 mitigation, Research (2021) | article

About the Researchers

Ady Suwardi received his B. Eng in Materials Engineering from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2012 and PhD in Materials Science from the University of Cambridge in 2018, before joining IMRE, A*STAR. He is currently the deputy head of Soft Materials department in IMRE. His research directions are in solid state electronic and thermal transport, including cooling and energy harvesting technologies.

Dan Daniel

Research Scientist

Institute of Materials Research and Engineering
Dan Daniel obtained his PhD degree in applied physics from Harvard University. For his doctoral work, he studied various anti-fouling surfaces inspired by the lotus leaf and the pitcher plant. In 2017, he joined A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) as a Research Scientist developing novel atomic force microscopy techniques for surface characterization.

This article was made for A*STAR Research by Wildtype Media Group