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Mechanical Engineering

Clean air

Company develops system to purify and humidify the environment

eduardo cesarWater within the device acts as a filtereduardo cesar

The artificially air conditioned environments of commercial buildings, schools and hospitals, which may house pathogenic microorganisms and toxic substances, can now make use of a new air treatment system. It can be found in several types of equipment developed and produced by AquAr Air Systems, in the city of Jundiaí, inner-state São Paulo. The technology reduces the suspended particles that are harmful to health, replenishes the air’s humidity and eliminates smell by using terpenes, essences extracted from orange, lemon, lime and pine trees. The firm has deposited two patent requests for the fluid-dynamic principle of its Forest Breeze line of equipment, launched in 2009. These pieces of equipment can be installed in the environment itself or along with central air-conditioning systems. The mechanical engineer Antonio Carlos Neiva, who established AquAr, says that the conventional purifiers merely act on certain types of pollutants, depending on the technology used, and that air filters are of limited efficiency when it comes to eliminating microorganisms. “The purifiers and filters dry out the air – some more, some less – and that is neither healthy nor agreeable”, says Neiva. The dry air irritates the mucosae of the upper respiratory system, causing coughing, and makes it easier to come into contact with bacteria and fungi.

The AquAr system is comprised of air washers that can purify the environment using a system to collect particles, eliminate microorganisms and absorb gases. The air is humidified and cleaned by a process in which water acts like a filter – the air enters one end of the equipment, is disinfected by terpenes and has its particles collected along the way, and comes out purified on the other side. “The biocide effect of the terpene eliminates the captured microorganisms and scents the environment with a natural fragrance”, he highlights. “The only competitor that I look upon as a direct one is Venta Air Washer, from Germany. It is an air washer but the operating principle is different from ours”. Concerning the possibility of terpene provoking allergies, Neiva states that the system met with good acceptance because its raw materials are hypoallergenic, as shown in trials, and only very small amounts are used. Additionally, synthetic biocides have an unpleasant smell and higher risk of causing an allergic reaction.

Equipment trials
The history of the AquAr air washers goes back to the beginning of the decade of 2000, when Neiva’s newborn son had breathing problems. The engineer decided to create a simple device to humidify and purify the air in his child’s room. In 2003, he obtained financing through the Pipe (Innovative Research in Small Companies) program of FAPESP to continue developing the prototype. The following year the firm started an incubation period at Ciatec, the Development Company of the High Technology Center of Campinas. This lasted for four years. During the system’s improvement period, several microbiological trials were conducted and, due to the results achieved, the ethics committee of the Clínicas Hospital at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) authorized trials on nine patients with serious lung problems, all of whom were undergoing home treatment. “The devices improved the quality of the air, reducing the microorganisms”, the engineer explains. The work was coordinated by the professor and pneumologist Ilma Paschoal and by PhD candidate Márcia Diniz, also a pneumologist. “In laboratory trials, the device was shown to efficiently reduce the number of units that form colonies of microorganisms in the environment, with the advantage that it can be easily cleaned, without the necessity to replace filters. The trials with patients, however, involved only a small number of persons, which does not allow us to draw consistent conclusions”, says Ilma. She explains that the basic physical process of the AquAr device has been known for a long time. “The advantage concerns the fact that the device removes particles suspended in the air, whether or not they are of a biological nature, and doesn’t require porous materials, such as hives and filters, to increase the efficiency of the evaporation that chills and humidifies the air. Therefore, the innovation is connected with the cleaning and hygiene aspects of the processed air.”

A decisive moment in the history of AquAr occurred in late 2008, when Neiva learnt about the existence of the company TerpenOil in São Paulo state. This firm made products for industrial degreasing, odor elimination through air treatment and general cleaning with terpenes. This technology had been developed by professor Raul Correa, from the Federal University of Ceará, in the early 1990’s, and had been licensed to TerpenOil in 2006. “At that time, the company was taking its first steps toward air treatment and AquAr already had a line of such products. It was a meeting of complementary technologies”, Neiva recalls. At the end of the negotiations, TerpenOil acquired the stock control of AquAr. Today, the company sells small, midsized and large air washers. Up to November, it had sold 620 units of the smallest product in its line, costing R$ 310.00 apiece. The midsized and large devices are designed to be attached to air-conditioning systems in buildings.

The project
Countercurrent air washer and humidifier for clinical, pneumological,  home use and other purposes (nº 02/12926-0); Type Program of Research in Small Companies (Pipe); Coordinator Antônio Carlos de Barros Neiva – AquAr; Investment R$ 238,828.60 (FAPESP)

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