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UV-Free Air Decontamination: Interview with Sorel Rothschild, VP at Quantum Innovations

LumaFlo, a medtech company based in Israel, has developed a decontamination technology that does not require UV light, something that can be dangerous for people nearby. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for safe and effective decontamination technologies for both public spaces and healthcare facilities. However, many such technologies rely on UV light to kill pathogens, but this can also have negative effects on those exposed.

In an effort to create a safer and more effective alternative, LumaFlo has developed a carbon nanostructure based photocatalytic system that is activated through visible light, meaning that it completely avoids the need for UV. In lab tests, the technology demonstrated 99.997% lethality for pathogens in just 90 minutes. The system is designed to be used in areas of maximal airflow, but it may also have applicability as a contact decontamination system, such as in heavily touched areas like door handles or hand-rails. 

Medgadget had the opportunity to speak with Sorel Rothschild, Vice President at Quantum Innovations, LumaFlo’s parent company, about the technology.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: How did the recent COVID-19 pandemic highlight the need for effective decontamination technologies?

Sorel Rothschild, Quantum Innovations/LumaFlo: Early in the pandemic, when the very aggressive contaminating properties of COVID-19 were revealed, it was clear that new preventive measures and strategies are necessary in the field of indoor air purification to contain such urgent situations as quickly as possible.

The CDC recently released new recommendations for higher air replacement rates and the use of active air purification equipment in crowded spaces. Within this context, air purification by photocatalytic oxidation (a NASA-derived air-quality control technology) appears to be the preferred solution to this problem.

LumaFlo took the photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) a few steps ahead by developing a Visible Light induced PCO technology to replace the potentially harmful UV light-induced PCO currently in use. LumaFlo’s technology can more efficiently decontaminate airborne contaminants in schools, hospitals, shopping centers, office buildings, airports, buses, etc. without the limitations imposed by the hazards of UV light exposure.

Medgadget: What are the most common air decontamination solutions for healthcare facilities at present? What are the limitations of such approaches?

Sorel Rothschild: At present, there are two main air decontamination technologies in use by healthcare facilities:

  1. Germicidal UV – UV light decontaminates primarily by causing damage to nucleic acids (DNA or RNA).

There are two types of equipment:

  • High intensity, high power Germicidal UV ‘robots’ —  a very expensive and power-consuming type of technology. During operation, the space to be disinfected must be evacuated since germicidal UV light is harmful, causing damage to nucleic acids, and generates Ozone, which can be a harmful gas by itself.
  • Low intensity Germicidal UV. This is much less effective than the High Intensity approach. Mostly installed as an add-on device in HVAC air ducts, it generates Ozone and due to the too short contact time, has low effectiveness.
  • Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) – a technology developed in the 1990s at the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR), a NASA Research Partnership Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the time, and sponsored by the space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The technology, as developed at that time used germicidal UV light to ‘activate’ the titanium dioxide – generating Ozone as by-product. PCO has the capability to oxidize organic matter, VOCs and other organic molecules as well as airborne contaminants / pathogens. UV light is still used by most products that base their air purification systems on PCO.

In contrast to this approach, LumaFlo developed a novel PCO technology that utilizes Visible Light to trigger the photocatalytic Oxidation – avoiding the hazardous threats the come from using UV light.

Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the LumaFlo decontamination technology, and how/where it is intended to be used.

Sorel Rothschild: LumaFlo is based on carbon nanostructures and certain photocatalytic materials combined through a special process into a novel nanomaterial. ARE (an FDA certified independent laboratory) tests indicate 99.997% pathogen reduction in 90 min, significantly better than existing solutions in the market.

LumaFlo technology will be implemented in products of various formats, from DIY adhesive labels for residential applications to OEM components integrated in existing ventilation systems and stand-alone equipment for hospitals, public spaces, airports, etc. LumaFlo can be placed on virtually any surface that is exposed to natural/white light. However, for maximal effectiveness it should also be positioned in locations where the LumaFlo material is exposed to the highest air flow volume (such as fan blades or intake/exhaust ventilation vents).

Medgadget: How does the system work? How does it kill airborne pathogens?

Sorel Rothschild: Our system is based on the classic PCO process, which works as follows:

The adsorption of a photon with sufficient energy by TiO2 promotes electrons from the valence band to the conduction band leaving a positively charged hole in the valence band. The electrons are then free to migrate within the conduction band and the holes may be filled by an electron from an adjacent molecule. This process can be repeated. Thus, holes are also mobile. Electrons and holes may recombine (bulk recombination) a non-productive reaction, or, when they reach the surface, react to give reactive oxygen species (ROS) such as O2 ?? and ?OH .

In theory, the ‘killing’ action was originally proposed to be via depletion of coenzyme A by dimerization and subsequent inhibition of respiration (Matsunaga et al. 1985, 1988). However, there is overwhelming evidence that the lethal action is due to membrane and cell wall damage. (See image below.)

Medgadget: What sort of lifespan does the LumaFlo material have? Can it be integrated into heavily touched surfaces, or is it primarily intended to decontaminate air-borne pathogens? 

Sorel Rothschild: Theoretically, LumaFlo photocatalyst material has a very long lifespan. When operating in a contaminated environment, we predict a minimum lifespan of six months, while in normal “preventive mode” setting, the expected lifespan is twelve months.

LumaFlo technology has been tested so far under two largely recognized methodologies:

  1. Decontamination of airborne pathogens using a flow cell

2. Contact test – Decontamination of E.coli on surface

Based on the tests’ outcomes, we believe our material can be integrated into heavily touched surfaces as well as decontamination of air-borne pathogens.

Medgadget: How can we prepare better for the next pandemic? Do you see such technologies being used in various public spaces and buildings, beyond healthcare facilities?

Sorel Rothschild: The CDC recently (May 12, 2023) called to improve the ventilation and decontamination practices as a vital preventive step towards the next pandemic, at the price of additional equipment, maintenance, and increased energy consumption cost. To the best of our knowledge, LumaFlo is the only technology that provides both superior decontamination and improved ventilation rate without inducing excessive energy cost.

Lumaflo can be used in any environment where there is a need for air purification / decontamination, both as a “preventive measure” device and in “emergency response” configuration such as in healthcare facilities, schools, public spaces, office buildings, trains, buses, airplanes, etc.

Link: LumaFlo homnepage…

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