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Technology Industry Opinion

A breath of fresh air - improving indoor air quality


As the Omicron variant rapidly spreads, indoor air quality has become a major focus for everyone, particularly during the winter months. So, what can be done to ensure indoor air quality remains at a safe level, in schools, at work, and at home?

A breath of fresh air - improving indoor air quality


"During the pandemic, air quality has come to the forefront of the minds of many people."
Elizabeth Swan



Poor indoor air quality can be defined by high levels of pollutants in the air, such as dust, mould, toxic chemicals and viruses. Any one of these factors can exacerbate health problems, including asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There’s also the increased risk of catching air-borne diseases such as Covid-19. By improving indoor air quality, people may find that these health problems are eased. 

Currently, the standard methods for improving air quality indoors include vacuuming regularly, opening windows to increase ventilation and using toxin-free cleaning products to reduce contaminants in the air. There are also a range of technological methods that are commonly used, such as HEPA air purifiers for capturing dust, allergens and bacteria, and activated carbon or catalytic filters for eliminating formaldehyde. Dehumidifiers can also help to lower the humidity of an area, so that microbes and mould that thrive in moist environments can’t survive. 

In larger public spaces, like schools and offices, smart sensors can be implemented, which monitor air quality and send out alerts when it is below optimum levels. This enables people to take action to improve it, whether that’s by opening more windows or turning on an air purifier. Environmental start-up, Atmos Q, has developed a range of patent-pending monitoring solutions that use the principles of indoor airflow and smart technologies, such as wireless sensor networks, to improve air quality. Unlike other monitoring systems, these are designed to benefit human health, as well as building performance. 

However, there are an increasing number of innovations appearing in this field, as people become more aware of the impact that pollutants can have on our health. HEPA air purifiers have been used for many years, but there are now a number of other options available. For example, Plasma Air’s bipolar ionisation air purifiers generate a bio-climate containing positively and negatively charged oxygen ions. Negative ions hold an extra electron, while positive ions are lacking an electron, creating an unstable condition. In an attempt to restabilise, the ions seek out molecules in the air that they can trade electrons with, resulting in the molecules being neutralised. This can include viruses, aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Not only is this method highly effective, it’s also energy efficient. 

Air purifying paint has also entered the market, in the form of Airlite’s 100% green product. The paint can be applied to a wide range of surfaces, both indoor and outdoor, and through a set of patented technologies, neutralises pollutants such as formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide by up to 88.8%. Titanium dioxide within the paint is activated by natural and artificial light, transforming the pollutants in the air into molecules of inert salt. 

As well as air purification technologies, eco-friendly cleaning products can also help to improve air quality in the home. Smol, a green cleaning company, has created a uniquely concentrated toxin-free formula which enables its products to be produced in tablet form. All consumers need to do is add water to transform it into a sprayable cleaner. Not only does this keep the air free of toxins, it is also better for the environment, with less packaging and water required. 

During the pandemic, air quality has come to the forefront of the minds of many people. Spending more time at home, thanks to remote working, has given people increased control over their home and working environment. People’s purchases are reflecting this, with the air purifier market size expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 12% during 2020-2026, according to the Global Air Purifier Market Report. 

As a result, the demand for new air quality innovations is rising, leading to an increasingly crowded marketplace. To secure a slice of this market opportunity, innovators should file for patent protection early on. Granting the owners 20 years of exclusivity, patents stop competitors from using the same technology or formulations in their own products, helping to position the innovator as the market leader and providing a number of commercial benefits. 

At the start of the pandemic, there was a surge in demand for PPE such as face masks, as people rushed to protect themselves from air-borne risks. However, wearing PPE forever is not a sustainable solution. Improving air quality offers a host of long-term benefits beyond Covid-19, and it’s likely that there will be an increase in the number of patented innovations in this area as a result. 

Elizabeth Swan, senior associate and patent attorney, and Heather West, associate, in the Home Care group at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers 

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