In a bid to improve air purifying products, especially in those parts of the world that have very poor air quality, a team of scientists from Washington State University have devised a soy-based air filter to capture toxic chemicals that current air filters are unable to at the moment.

Poor air quality can contribute to all sorts of health problems and is a known factor in diseases like lung cancer, heart disease and asthma. Air purifiers work to remove small particles that are present in car exhaust, smoke and soot, which are all inhaled into the lungs.

The air filters currently in circulation are typically made of tiny fibres of synthetic plastics and work by filtering out the small particles. However, they’re not able to chemically capture gaseous molecules and they’re often made of petroleum and glass products, which results in secondary pollution, according to Professor Weihong Zhong of the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

Now, however, the university team – working alongside others from the University of Science and Technology Beijing – have successfully used a pure soy protein alongside bacterial cellulose to create a biodegradable and inexpensive air filter.

Soy protein and cellulose are already used in various other applications, such as plastic products, adhesives, wound dressings and tissue regeneration materials. The team used an acrylic acid treatment to disentangle the soy protein so that its functional chemical groups (soy includes 18 types of amino groups) can be more exposed to pollutants. The filter they created was able to remove nearly all the small particles, as well as the chemical pollutants.

Professor Zhong said: “We can take advantage from those chemical groups to grab the toxics in the air. Air pollution is a very serious health issue. If we can improve indoor air quality, it would help a lot of people.”

Just this month (January), London breached its annual air pollution limits five days into the new year, breaking the limit on Brixton Road in Lambeth, according to the Guardian. Hourly levels of nitrogen dioxide, which is toxic, must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times in a year. And it seems likely that the limit will be broken many more times this year, since Putney High Street broke the hourly limit more than 1,200 times last year. Other renowned pollution hotspots in the capital include the Strand, Oxford Street and Kings Road in Chelsea.

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, plans to increase funding to £875 million over five years to tackle the pollution problem in the city, but the newspaper went on to note that national plans from the government have been ruled illegal twice in the last two years so a third strategy is now under development.

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This entry was posted on 6th Mar 2017