Concern about infection with COVID-19 in closed places has worried all countries around the world, including Israel, which – due to a high rate of infection is preparing for a very strict, nationwide lockdown in the coming weeks. Schools, shopping malls and smaller stores, many private and public workplaces are being shut down.
Now, technology developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba – in partnership with Rice University in Houston, Texas – offers some hope. It is being commercialized by LIGC Application Ltd. to develop and manufacture products for filtration systems, including those that filter COVID-19 airborne particles.
LIGC Application LTD. is pioneering new technology, offering laser-induced graphene (LIG) commercialization. It is a scalable approach for producing and patterning porous graphene foam, using a commercially available laser in ambient temperature. Major commercial applications for this technology include air filtration, water purification, printed circuit boards, gas and strain sensors, wound healing, sanitary textile, hygiene pads, water splitting, fuel cell catalysis and many more. Hubei Forbon Technology Co. Ltd. in Wuhan, China provided $3 million in funding.
“For the past five years, our lab at BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research has focused on the development of LIG, specifically in antimicrobial filtration and environmental applications,” said Dr. Chris Arnusch. “We are excited to be commercializing our technology in a number of air filtration products for COVID-19 and other specialized filtration applications.”
LIG co-founder and chief executive officer Yehuda Borenstein added: “In the absence of better filtration technology, the indoor spaces where we used to spend most of our ‘normal’ life – schools, stores and workplaces – due to COVID-19 present a real risk. This technology will provide cleaner and more breathable air with lower energy and maintenance costs and virtually silent sound levels.”
Active air filters made with LIG are designed to damage and destroy organic particles including bacteria, mold spores and viruses at the micron and sub-micron levels when passed through a microscopic network of porous graphene. This cost-effective approach is produced using commercially available CO2 lasers to create a conductive graphene mesh.
The graphene mesh heats, electrocutes and neutralizes organic particles and pathogens with “revolutionary efficiency” compared to active carbon filters, UV-C and fiber HEPA filters that are used widely in schools, offices, homes, ships, and other facilities, the company says.
Aircraft are already equipped with HEPA filters that remove viruses and bacteria from the circulated cabin air, but they involve high energy and maintenance costs. Since the LIGC filter uses low-voltage electricity to eliminate bacteria and viruses, lower density filtration media can be used, resulting in significantly less energy consumption.
In addition, the company said that LIGC active filters require lower maintenance than other filters and are safe for the operator during maintenance and replacement. “To understand the technology, imagine the porous graphene is an electric fence that functions like a mosquito zapper at the submicron level,” Bornstein noted.
“When an airborne bacteria or virus touches the graphene surface, it is shocked at a low voltage and currents that are safe for use. While 2020 has highlighted the importance of protecting against airborne viruses, the post-pandemic world will likely show us how important it is to do so without increasing energy costs past the point of affordability,” he concluded.