AUV air sterilization system — being tested at the Pentagon — can protect humans from biological organisms, such as those that can be used during a bio-terror attack or those present in the common cold.
Development of the product began when Dr. Wayne Clark and a team of engineers were asked by the U.S. Army to examine the potential of creating a system that could protect personnel in Army tanks against airborne biological threats such as microbes and viruses. The Army was specifically interested in using intense ultraviolet (UV) rays to prevent these external biological agents from infiltrating the interior of the tank. A series of experiments completed in 1998 proved that the technology was successful in killing airborne microorganisms. The one drawback was the amount of energy required for the operation.
Through Clark’s research and feedback from past government customers, he knew there was a market for the technology, especially if it could be converted to treating the flowing air within buildings. In April 2000, he started his own company, Novatron Inc., to expand the technology and address its shortcomings. In December 2000, the company received its first contract to develop and test technology for a pulsing UV device that could be used in conjunction with a building’s ventilation system to kill biological terrorism agents such as anthrax spores, ricin and smallpox as well as cold and flu viruses.
The device, called the Advanced UV System (AUVS), would protect the interior of a building against biological attacks and create safe zones within its walls. The concept involved installing UV air sterilization equipment inside the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system to kill microorganisms in flowing air. The issue of energy consumption, however, remained a concern. “As a result, we developed some technology that enabled us to multiply the intensity of the UV by large factors without having additional energy sources,” Clark says.
The first technology was based on creating very intense short-duration-pulse UV. Clark found two things that brought about a change in the technology. The first was that continuous UV is just as effective if the right intensity is produced. “We also discovered a way to do this using a cavity technique where the intensity is multiplied with reflections within the cavity,” he says.
Even with the right technology design, Novatron needed help in developing a business strategy to bring the system to the marketplace. The company looked to the Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technology (CCAT), a Department of Defense (DoD)-supported program that provides funding and business commercialization services. Government labs, academic researchers and small businesses often seek help from CCAT to get their technologies marketed and mass-produced. The non-profit program offers mentoring, market studies and investor information to assist in getting DoD-prioritized technologies into the hands of the American military and first responders.
The company continued developing a prototype using cavity technology. Though Novatron officials discovered a way to intensify the UV, there were still some tricks to asserting the cavity technique effectively. These included controlling the air flow and finding the right reflective materials within the cavity. These methods were developed over a period of months, and the design for the cavity system was engineered in early 2003. For the next year, Novatron tested the technology through small-scale lab tests and field experiments, as part of the Immune Building Program.
Novatron requested additional funding and was awarded $75,000 from CCAT to assist in the completion of the AUVS prototype. It was completed in late 2004. The AUVS cavity design allowed the system to consume less power than the pulsing technology, consuming 1500 watts of operating power for 2,000 cubic square feet per minute of air flow capacity. This is the same amount as a standard hair dryer. The AUVS technology can also be adapted to kill germs on surfaces.
In May 2005, Novatron received word that it was selected to be part of a DoD program called the Collective Protection Technology Readiness Evaluation. “The purpose of this program is to test a number of promising technologies to evaluate their effectiveness,” Clark says. In June 2005, a Pentagon Force Protection Agency representative called Clark to discuss installation of an AUVS, which later took the name BioProtector. The Pentagon was conducting tests and implementing equipment to protect its personnel.
The agency liked Novatron’s technology, and the contract was finalized in July 2005. In accordance with the agency’s tight schedule, the system had to be built and sent to the Pentagon last September, less than three months after the contract was signed. Installation was initiated in October and completed on Dec. 2, 2005. It became operational on the same day.