Plasma technology offers breathable air in biological, chemical threats

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers are using the universe’s most common form of matter, plasma, in a new filtration system that may one day save the lives of people seeking shelter from chemical or biological attacks. Originally designed for the Department of Defense to protect soldiers, PNNL’s Hybrid Plasma Filtration System may soon find a niche in the commercial market as well. The laboratory has built a compact prototype of the system, but plans to enlarge it significantly for use in bigger spaces, such as buildings, tented structures and aircraft.

“This is a technology that we wish the nation wouldn’t need, but in light of our changing times, it’s satisfying to be part of a solution that can help protect people and even save lives,” said Ken Rappe, PNNL’s senior development engineer.

PNNL’s filtration system is unlike any other because it doesn’t use common High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filters. Instead, researchers found that by using plasma to destroy airborne contaminants that come through the filters, they actually lasted much longer, making the system more reliable and less cumbersome to operate.

In addition, the PNNL-developed system is able to destroy both biological and chemical contaminants including toxic industrial chemicals, such as hydrogen cyanide and hydrochloric acid, and chemical warfare agents, such as sarin, which was released in a 1995 terrorist attack in the Tokyo subway.

In addition to destroying potentially deadly agents, the system pumps out purified air, allowing people to breathe freely in an otherwise contaminated environment.

PNNL is interested in pursuing development of the technology for commercial applications. Business inquiries should be directed to Eric Lund at (509) 375-3764 or [email protected].

PNNL ( ) is a DOE Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, the environment and life sciences by advancing the understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and computation. PNNL employs 3,900, has a $650 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab’s inception in 1965.


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