March: Biodefense & food supply safetyKilling bugs dead

Published 7 March 2008

A new device, based on the old-fashioned mechanical air-pump technology, destroys airborne pathogens by rapidly heating contaminated air under pressure and mechanically compressing it

Talk of killing bugs dead: In tests conducted for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), a new air sterilization system developed at the University at Buffalo has killed every biological agent which it has been presented with, including airborne spores, viruses, and bacteria. The system, called BioBlower, is based on a modification of a Roots blower, a mechanical air-pump technology, which has been in existence for more than 100 years. The BioBlower destroys airborne pathogens by rapidly heating contaminated air under pressure and mechanically compressing it as it is being blown rapidly through the mechanical rotary pump. The system then blows the disinfected air back into the enclosed environment — whether it is a tank, plane, ship, tent, or building.

A prototype, produced by Buffalo BioBlower Technologies, a UB spin-off company, destroyed biological agents to a level of better than one part per million in the independent evaluation conducted over a period of four weeks by the Research Triangle Institute for DOD’s Joint Program for Chemical and Biological Defense Collective Protection. The positive outcome of the independent evaluation indicates that BioBlower could, in the near future, be protecting soldiers from biological attack, according to James Garvey, a professor in the Department of Chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences and cofounder and chief technical officer of Buffalo BioBlower Technologies. “The military has now directed us to retrofit one of their existing platforms with a BioBlower as a technology demonstration,” Garvey said. The military system being retrofitted is used to inflate the hospital units and temporary shelters erected in the battlefield for command headquarters. “We’re removing their current fan and replacing it with our electrical air pump, the BioBlower, which also will instantly kill any airborne biological agents on contact,” Garvey said.

Conventional technologies involve the use of HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, which simply trap large airborne spores. These passive filters have to be regularly replaced and properly discarded, posing a further potential hazard to personnel, Garvey said. In addition, they provide little or no protection against airborne viruses. “Right now, it’s up to soldiers in the field to swap out these filters and replace them, which involves considerable logistic demands, such as labour and expense,” said Garvey. In contrast, he noted, the BioBlower immediately kills any and all airborne biological pathogens and only electricity is needed to power the rotary air pump, which drives the blower. “With the BioBlower, there’s nothing to replace and no maintenance,” said Garvey. “It’s really ‘plug and play’. You plug in the machine and as long as it’s running, it’s doing its job.”

BioBlower units can be installed as a permanent part of a building’s air-handling (HVAC) system, including on military bases. The technology also has potential applications in health-care and hospital settings. The New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Academic Research currently is funding development of a BioBlower prototype for health-care settings with the goal of taking it into clinical trials.