Hospitals and healthcare systems have long understood the importance of protecting patients, staff, and visitors from airborne pathogens. But the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has made optimal air cleaning "mission critical" for many area institutions.
"When COVID hit this area, we were getting three or four calls every day from our customers asking us what we thought about this or that technology to clean the air," says Dave Heibult, president of G & R Controls, the building automation division of HVAC Elements. "We did not want to put our name behind anything until we really understood how it worked and its long-term effects on energy efficiency of the HVAC system."
The challenge for healthcare facilities is to destroy potentially infectious agents safely, efficiently, quickly, and without producing harmful byproducts. One technology that checks all of those boxes is needlepoint biopolar ionization (NPBI). This involves sending ionized particles into a space to deactivate pathogens and pollutants at the molecular level.
Many air purification options can produce clean air, however many also yield unwanted and dangerous byproducts such as ozone. They can be expensive, not only to install but also in terms of energy usage, replacement parts and maintenance. The downsides seemed to outweigh the potential advantages for many institutions.
But the NPBI technology developed by Charlotte, North Carolina-based Global Plasma Solutions (GPS) and marketed in our region by HVAC Elements, is different.
Not only is the system reasonably priced and easy to install on an existing HVAC system, but it is also self-cleaning and maintenance-free, with no harmful off-gassing. Just as importantly, recent independent testing commissioned by the US Defense Department shows it neutralizes 99.4% of SARS-CoV-2 in just 30 minutes.
"From everything I have seen, this meets the needs of my healthcare clients better than anything else on the market. It is also affordable," says Heibult.
Once installed on an air handling system, a GPS unit constantly generates an electronic charge which in turn produces a high concentration of positively and negatively charged ions that circulate continually, searching out contaminants and stealing a hydrogen atom. When stripped of a hydrogen atom, these biological pathogens are destroyed.
"It is one thing to try to filter the air, but that does not help you when you are in the space and you have someone breathing right next to you," says Ryan O'Connor, president of O'Connor Company, a separate division of HVAC Elements that serves as a manufacturer's representative for HVAC equipment.
"With NPBI, you are constantly cleaning the air because you are constantly sending ions out into the space to neutralize whatever is there," says O'Connor. And that includes far more than just SARS-CoV-2. The GPS system also destroys fungi, molds, allergens including black mold, mildew, pollen, and dust mites, and bacteria and viruses like E. coli, MRSA, H1N1, C. diff, norovirus and others. Most pathogens can be neutralized within about 30 minutes.
As the charged ions pull these molecules out of the air, they increase the efficiency of the air filters. They also remove mold and biofilm from cooling coils (unlike UV lights which can only clean the surface). The system even neutralizes odors. And it does all of this with an energy consumption of as little as 5 watts.
"This system does so much and requires so little," says O'Connor. "We expect to get 10 to 12 years out of a system with no maintenance and very little energy consumption."
HVAC Elements is spreading the word about GPS units in the healthcare market first in an effort to protect frontline workers. They plan to turn their attention to colleges and school systems next.
"This technology has been out there for some time, but people did not see the value in it the way they do now," says Heibult. "The pandemic has affected everyone. COVID forced people to take a closer look at the quality and safety of their indoor air."