Can We Combat The Spread of Coronavirus in Enclosed Public Places?

·6-min read

COVID-19 continues to dominate our lives & our economy. While the deployment of vaccines shows the light at the end of the tunnel, social distancing & strict hygiene remain of utmost importance in our fight to curb the spread of coronavirus. Technology can play an important part in this fight too. We caught up with Dr Ajit Aras from Sharp Singapore to understand how Sharp’s Plasmacluster technology for air sanitization, could strengthen our defence against the spread of COVID-19. Here a verbatim script of the interview.

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Q: Why is air sanitisation so important during the coronavirus pandemic?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 can spread through fine droplets released during respiration. These fine droplets can remain active in the air for several minutes and even hours. Disinfectants such as alcohol and detergents are effective to reduce the risk of the virus on materials, however, for infection via aerosols (microdroplets), there are few effective countermeasures such as a mask. This challenge becomes more severe in indoor commercial spaces like offices, restaurants, shopping malls and public transport vehicles where people from various backgrounds intermingle. Efforts to combat the spread of this airborne COVID-19 count on the air purification HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems to neutralize the coronavirus and maintain Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Unfortunately, filtration systems in most current air conditioners are unable to neutralize the airborne COVID-19 coronavirus. There is an urgent need to upgrade these HVAC systems. It is not economically viable to change the existing air conditioning systems in most commercial places. Hence a retrofit solution is required to make them COVID ready.

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Q: What is Sharp offering to combat the spread of airborne coronavirus?

In response to the COVID pandemic, Sharp Corporation has introduced retrofit Plasmacluster Ionizer (PCI) modules which can upgrade existing HVAC systems to neutralize airborne coronavirus. The retrofit PCI modules can be installed in the ducts of existing commercial HVAC systems to upgrade them. This upgrade also enables the HVAC systems to eliminate bacteria, fungi, and various other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are harmful to human health.

Q: How does Plasmacluster Ionizer technology work?

Plasmacluster Ionizer (PCI) technology, developed by Sharp separates water molecules from air to create positive hydrogen(H⁺) and negative oxygen (O₂⁻) ions and releases them in the air. These ions form clusters to transform into OH radicals. The OH radicles cling to viruses/pathogens and extract hydrogen (H) from its surface to form moisture (H2O). This is a unique technology of deactivating airborne viruses, bacteria by breaking down proteins on their surface, by a chemical reaction. The OH radicals also reduce the volatile organic compounds (VOC) and unpleasant odours, making the air safe & pleasant for people.

Q: Is the PCI technology evaluated by any independent authorities?

The effectiveness of PCI technology in eliminating pathogens, allergens & VOCs has been tested and proven by more than 30 independent institutions in several countries. In September 2020 tests were conducted with Nagasaki University, Japan an internationally respected authority on infectious disease research. In this test, the aerosolized virus was passed through the test devise with exposure to Plasmacluster ions. The results confirmed PCI’s effectiveness against of SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Q: Were there any “emergency” approvals done for it considering the emergencies created by pandemic?

PCI is a proven and mature technology and there were no “emergency” or “express” testing/assurances required for it. Sharp introduced PCI technology first in 2005 and since then has continuously invested in improving & testing it for effectiveness and safety. PSI technology was tested to be effective against the SARS virus. The mechanism of PCI effectiveness in neutralizing virus & other pathogens is independent of the breed/RNA composition, as we discussed slightly earlier in this chat. Hence PCI is kind of future-proof in that sense. COVID-19 has highlighted the need and urgency for air sanitization in enclosed public places. In response to this Sharp introduced the PCI in a duct-type form factor for easy retrofit to existing aircon systems.

Q: What are the side effects of PCI technology?

Unlike other virucidal technologies, PCI ions have been checked for possible skin and eye irritancy and the tests showed no irritancy or any other adverse effect on human skin or eyes even in excessive concentrations. Rather having a healthy ion concentration helps to moisturize the skin.

Sharp’s PCI technology is inspired by nature. The positive and negative ions are same types as those generated in the nature, by a waterfall. Hence, the positive and negative ions generated by PCI, mimic nature to create a feeling of freshness and relaxation for people, even in their urban environment. PCI ions also help to reduce unpleasant odours, eliminate static charge, and moisturize human skin.

Q: Where do such PCI products fit in Sharp’s overall business direction?

Sharp’s business philosophy is to dedicate the use of our unique, innovative technology to contribute to the culture, benefits and welfare of people throughout the world. In line with this Sharp has been actively contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, early in Covid-19 crisis, Sharp decided to produce face masks in response to the Japanese government’s request. Production began in March 2020 at Sharp’s Taki factory in Japan, after quick preparations. Subsequently the masks have been made available to consumers as well. Also, Sharp applied super-low reflection moth-eye film technology to innovate face shields that offered crystal clear visibility. This innovation enables professionals who need super clear visibility, to avail the protection offered by face shields. The application of retrofit PCI modules to combat the spread of airborne coronavirus is one more such initiative.

Sharp will continue striving to contribute to the safety, security, and wellbeing of our society, through various technology innovations.

Q: Thank you for the insights Dr. Ajit, any closing remarks?

Thank you for having me, it’s always a pleasure talking to you guys. We must urgently combat the spread of COVID-19 to save lives and bring back the affected livelihoods, at the earliest.

Sharp will continue to innovate and apply our technologies towards this direction. Coronavirus droplets can remain active in the air for several minutes & even hours. In response to the COVID pandemic, Sharp Corporation has introduced retrofit Plasmacluster Ionizer (PCI) modules which can upgrade existing HVAC systems to neutralize airborne coronavirus.

Tests conducted with Nagasaki University demonstrated PCI’s effectiveness against of SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. While being tough on undesired pathogens, PCI ions are safe and rather beneficial to humans.

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