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COVID-19 game-changer? Houston researchers create air filter that can kill the coronavirus

Tested by UTMB's Galveston National Laboratory, the filter killed 99.8 percent of coronavirus on a single pass.

HOUSTON — A collaboration of scientific minds in Houston led to the development of what could be a game-changer in the fight against the coronavirus.

It started with an idea from Medistar founder Monzer Hourani: a filter that could kill coronavirus. His company approached researchers at the Texas Center for Conductivity at UH, led by Dr. Zhifeng Ren.

“In a month and a half, we got the prototype, the testing done and the proven concept,” says Dr. Ren.

His team figured out the best possible solution would be to heat the filter, zapping the virus.

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“Let’s say 70 °C. It may take 10-20 minutes to kill. If you go to 100 °C , it will take a couple minutes. But if you go to 200 °C , that will be instantaneous,” Dr. Ren explains.

That’s the temperature scientists decided to stick with, using it to heat a filter made of nickel foam, which is more porous and allows the air to pass.

“It filters the virus. It catches it. It kills it. Without impacting the temperature of the ambient air,” says Dr. Garrett K. Peel of Medistar. “What a great thing that this has come from Texas, the top minds of Texas have worked together in such a great way.”

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The testing was done here in Texas as well at UTMB’s Galveston National Laboratory, which found the filter kills 99.8 percent of the virus on its first pass.

“It’s basically an air purifier with a function cleaning any bioagents,” Dr. Ren says.

One of its uses, he suggests, could be in classrooms as Texas students are slated to head back this fall. A mobile unit would be able to filter the air in each room, helping provide a different kind of mask for kids, teachers and staff. After all, Dr. Peel adds, “Asking a classroom of third graders to social distance and wear masks every time is a real tough thing.”

The researchers hope their filter gets the attention of state and national leaders … to help form a public-private partnership.

“This can be truly an affordable, low-cost, accessible opportunity for us to help contain COVID-19 indoors,” says Dr. Peel, adding that the filter can be retroactively installed in commercial HVAC units or used in a mobile unit.

Read more about the research here.

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