IIT Madras develops air sanitisation technology against Covid-19, TB – India Today

Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), Chennai are collaborating with Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), the UK, to develop India-centric Air Sanitization Technologies and guidelines to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and Tuberculosis. This system is aimed at deployment in confined indoor places such as offices and hospitals.

This joint research aims to develop a robust low-cost bio-aerosol protection system to suppress air-transmitted diseases in indoor locations. In collaboration with Magneto Cleantech, a pioneering industry start-up based in Delhi, the testing and implementation will be done with real-time applications in various Indian environments.

Number deaths due to Covid-19 and TB

The Covid-19 pandemic has claimed more than four lakh lives in India alone. TB killed over 4.45 lakh people In India during 2019 and is among the top 10 causes of death worldwide.

The target geographies for this project are India and its adjacent countries. The major factor working with this area is the high population and heavy urban pollution. It is expected that this project, when successfully implemented, will benefit nearly 10 crore people in the Indian sub-continent.

The project will be aimed at developing an experimental proof-of-concept of a revolutionary air filtration system using ‘Ultraviolet-C’ radiation. It has a strong potential to increase the effectiveness of eliminating viruses and other airborne pathogens and reduce maintenance costs as compared to the available filters, which is important for developing countries such as India.

Elaborating on the current status of the project and expected field deployment, Project Coordinator Prof. Abdus Samad, Department of Ocean Engineering, IIT Madras, said, “IIT Madras always tries for collaborative research to solve societal problems. When the Covid lockdown started in March 2020, we all got scared. As a researcher, we started thinking how to reduce the pain and distress caused by the airborne viruses. At the same time, the Royal Academy of Engineering of the UK announced research funding for international collaborative works linking to industry. We immediately took action and started research on disinfecting air for indoor conditions.”

Further, Prof. Abdus Samad said, “Various UVC solutions are present in the market, but they lack the technical design rigor needed to ensure appropriate airborne disinfection and inactivation. This has led to consumer confusion and mistrust. The projects’ goal is to develop a solution that is extensively verified and tested from both theoretical and practical perspectives, and finally, the safety made visible in a consumer-friendly manner ensuring live performance of the system.”

How will Air Sanitization Technologies benefit

In keeping with the Government of India’s goal of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Start-up India’ program, the joint consortium will develop products that would be commercialized through Magneto along with the academic institutions. This will pave the way for many new job openings for young budding engineers. This will be an important development for the benefit of society and the entire world in the fight against these diseases.

Highlighting the technical aspects of the project, Prof. Nithya Venkatesan, Professor, School of Electrical Engineering, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), Chennai, said, “The design of this prototype will be based on multidisciplinary optimization, fluid dynamic analysis, and novel innovations in Ultraviolet-C (UVC) arrangements and sensors and controls developed by leading UK and Indian researchers. The team will also explore mechanisms for monitoring the performance of such systems in real-time environments using new-age bio-sensing and simulations through an IoT device.”

Further Prof. Nithya Venkatesan said, “One very important aspect is that we will seek to establish guidelines for how to use this air cleaning device in concert with other policies of cleaning, ventilation, and social distancing. We will account for the features found in high-density population centres in India and similar developing countries. This will be achieved through advanced fluid dynamics modelling, risk analysis, and co-operation with national and local stakeholders.”

This project has major funding from Royal Academy Engineering (RAENG), UK, under the ‘Transforming System through Partnership’ scheme. The total budget of the project is about £80,000, and it is for a period of two years (April-2021 to April-2023). Partial funding support is also made by the participating organizations.

The UK’s counterpart Dr. Eldad Avital of Queen Mary University of London said, “Designing any practical system needs a multidisciplinary team. Eventually, we got experts from electronic and electrical system designers, microbiologists and fluid system designers. Sars-Cov-2 spreads quickly and new variants are evolving as we have seen delta and other variants. We need to proceed to the right technology to contain, disinfect it. Our solution will work, in general, for air disinfection for indoor conditions”.

Emeritus Professor of Leeds Beckett University Prof. Clive Beggs is the consultant to the project and an expert in infection control and airborne infection. He stated, “Viruses and bacteria can easily be liberated into the air within room spaces, and if their concentration is allowed to build up then this can pose a threat to humans because the pathogens can be inhaled. Our air disinfection device has the potential to reduce the concentration of pathogens in room air and thus reduce the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 and TB. Through a collaboration between academics and industry we are developing a pathogen reduction system which should help protect building occupants.”

Himanshu Agarwal, the CEO of Magneto Cleantech, the Indian industry Partner based in New Delhi, and Bhanu Agarwal, the co-founder, will provide the overall air conditioning systems design guidance. They will also provide the necessary oversight to ensure an overall system design that meets the needs of practical buildings and air conditioning systems in India. Magneto will also apply the system to client sites and assess the performance of the designed system.

Himanshu Agarwal said, “The most difficult task for air purification systems in the subcontinent is to tackle the heavy pollution and airborne contaminant load, requiring a robust design and regular cleaning. Our effort will be to come up with a feasible solution which will conform to industry regulations and can benefit the masses with real-time visibility.”

This research will also involve a strong educational training element giving opportunities to students from both India and the U.K. to collaborate towards solving acute problems affecting societies worldwide.

The Academic partners in India are Prof. Abdus Samad from IIT Madras and Prof. Nithya Venkatesan, from VIT, Chennai. Prof. Abdus Samad will lead the team for the whole system design and overall coordination. Prof. Nithya Venkatesan will focus on electrical components and IoT design.

The UK team is led by Dr. Eldad Avital from Queen Mary University of London, with Prof. Clive Beggs of Leeds Beckett University being the project consultant. Dr. Eldad will coordinate the UK team and will look after the fluid mechanics and mathematical modelling. Prof Beggs (an Emeritus professor) will look after the microbiology and UVC.

Students/researchers working on the project include:

Saket Kapse (Research Associate, VIT University -Chennai)

Rishav Raj (MS, Fluid machines, IIT Madras)

Mahesh Chaudhari (BTech, IIT Madras)

Dr. Wasim Raza (Postdoc Fellow, IIT Madras)

Dena Rahman (MEng, QMUL)

This project proposal was born from the need to develop bio-aerosol protection systems that would effectively eliminate airborne pathogens and make the confined spaces safer for the common public to access. Additionally, the need to make bio-safety visible to drive awareness and performance-based engineering is critical, so the project will research advanced sensing technologies to make the bio-contaminants and their removal visible to end-users.