Air Filtration System
Air filtration systems are used to filter the air to meet different goals. In residential settings, an air filtration system might be used to improve air quality. In industrial settings, the air may be filtered to meet stringent manufacturing requirements. Air filters may be used in agricultural settings to improve the wellbeing of indoor livestock.1
Air filtration systems are effective at removing particulate matter, and at reducing the number of pathogens in the air. Air filtering can also reduce the presence of gaseous pollutants that are known to harm human health.
How air filters work depends on the type of filter being used. Some air filtration systems reduce the number of contaminants in the air by adding an electrostatic or ionic charge to air as it enters the system. This causes the particles and suspended liquids in the air to either fall out of the air column outside of the filter, or to become attracted to a charged electric plate.
Air filtering that uses a filter medium to trap particles is a common implementation in many settings. These filters work by passing air through a filter that is made up of randomly arranged fibers, often fiberglass. The filters often have accordion-like ribs to increase the surface area available for filtering, which increases air flow. As the particle filled air passes through the filter, particles collide with fibers and get stuck.
Activated carbon or activated charcoal is used in air filtering systems to remove gaseous pollutants from the air. Air is passed over carbon that has been specially processed to have a large surface area. The gaseous pollutants either chemically react or physically adsorb (attach to the surface) of the activated carbon. This removes dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde.
Uses for air filtration systems
Air filtration systems are used in industrial, research, medical, residential, and commercial settings.
Many industries require air that has been filtered to meet certain parameters. In computer chip manufacturing, for example, the smallest piece of dust or debris can cause expensive failures and delays. The process to create computer chips shines light through a large-scale model of the chip and focuses the resulting shadows onto a much smaller area. If a piece of dust were to block the light, the outline of the dust would end up on the chip2
In medical testing and medical research environments, filtered air may be mission-critical. For example, PCR, or polymerase-chain reaction, amplifies a small sample of genetic material until there is enough material to perform a test of some sort. If an airborne virus, bacteria, or other source of genetic material were to enter the PCR chamber prior to amplification, any tests results could be inaccurate.3 Air filtration systems are also used to reduce the transmission of airborne pathogens in hospital settings.4
Many residential homes include air filtering in the HVAC system in order to reduce particulate matter and help remove harmful volatile organic compounds.5
Well-maintained air filtration systems are very effective at removing particulate matter from the air. Clean air machines sold for residential use can remove allergens and pathogens from air in the home.
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Air fresheners like wall-plugin units and small pieces of scented paper that hang from a rear-view mirror do not filter the air. They usually only add a smell to the air.
Different methods of air treatment have different maintenance requirements. Filters may need to be washed or replaced regularly. In activated carbon systems, an air purifier with carbon filter will need to have the carbon either physically replaced or chemically reactivated. Electrostatic charge systems may require cleaning of metal charge plates to remain effective.
An air filtration system may include components to sanitize the air, although simple filtering alone isn’t sufficient to kill all the living things in the air. An air sanitizer uses chemical reactants, ultraviolet light, or other methods to kill or otherwise make innocuous airborne pathogens.
The United States Department of Energy and the European Union define the effectiveness of an air filter by how much particulate matter is removed versus how much pressure is required to move air through the filter. A HEPA filter is a filter that is able to remove 99.97% or 99.95% (depending on jurisdiction) of particulate matter for a given drop in air flow.
This depends on the size of the home. Air filtration systems, air cleaning systems, and air sanitizer machines are all rated in cubic feet per minute, or how many cubic feet of air can be processed in one minute. The amount of air processed needs to be counted against the number of particles being produced. In a completely empty room, very few, if any, particles are being produced. A room where people are generating dust or pets are shedding hair will produce a lot of particles. The air in a room where this is occurring needs to be processed faster in order to counteract the number of particles generated. In addition, the size of the home will affect how large a filter is needed.
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Master Air Purifier Sources:
Air quality sources: Air purification/filtration process sources: HEPA, UPLA, and MERV filter sources:
Air quality sources:https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b01236
Air purification/filtration process sources:https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/air-purifiers/buying-guide/index.htm
HEPA, UPLA, and MERV filter sources:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16517004/