Monday 26 May 2014

NUS develops new air filtration system

A team at the National University of Singapore has developed an indoor air filtration system touted as being twice as effective as regular air purifiers -- and they will hit the shelves soon
By John Leong, Channel NewsAsia, 24 May 2014

With the haze possibly on the horizon again, a new locally-developed market alternative to air filtration systems will soon hit the shelves.

The indoor air filtration system was developed by a team at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and is touted as being twice as effective as regular air purifiers.

At first glance, it looks like just a regular fan, but it's actually an air filtration system.

It targets PM2.5 -- particles that are smaller than the width of a human hair.

Short-term effects of inhaling such particles include eye and lung irritation.

Longer term, it could lead to serious illnesses such as lung and bladder cancer.

"I was at home trying to innovate and protect my children from high haze exposure indoors," said Dr Jeff Obbard, Dept of Civil & Environmental Engineering, NUS. "And I realised quite quickly that there were no air purifiers left in stores so I started playing around at home with the fans I had and basically came up with a basic system there and then and thought perhaps I can develop this further at the university."

The system will be suitable for areas such as classrooms, homes and dormitories.

It traps pollutants, before re-circulating clean air.

It can do this 13 times an hour, 13 times more often than regular air purifiers.

The NUS team took about 10 months to develop the system, and that includes testing it in the harshest of environments.

"We decided to go over to Pekanbaru in Riau province, where a lot of the haze in Singapore comes from, and worked in real haze conditions," said Dr Obbard. "And quite sadly what we found was in a school classroom, children were working at levels of pollution up to nine times over the world's health standard.

"And that really spurred me on to develop this system and do something for them."

And so, from the middle of next month, consumers will be able to purchase it -- in three variations -- online, and there are plans to roll them it at convenience stores soon after.

It will be marketed and sold by AiRazor Technologies, an NUS spin-off company.

The product will also be launched in Taiwan, China and Indonesia, markets that have what AiRazor called 'immediate needs'.

Prices start from 150 dollars.

Consumers also have the option of retrofitting existing fans for 50 dollars; disposable, replacement filters will cost 30 dollars each.

During a haze crisis, developers estimate that filters will have to be changed about once a week.

Andrew Yap, Managing Director, AiRazor Technologies says that his company is prepared to meet demand for the filters.

"We are bringing in the first two thousand units with the hope that it will fly off the shelves and we will be ready with the next thousands of units within the coming weeks," he said. "So we are hoping that we can deliver about a hundred thousand a month."

Next up for the company: developing masks that make air safe to breathe in yet fit more comfortably than existing market options. 

Experts warn of long period of haze
By Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia, 25 May 2014

The haze that is expected to hit Singapore in the coming months could go on for as long as three months, experts have warned.

This is similar to what the Republic experienced in 1997, they said.

Prolonged hazy skies could happen if a strong El Nino effect sets in, compounded by the already-started illegal land clearing by farmers in Sumatra.

El Nino is a phenomenon which causes severely dry weather and high temperatures in this region.

According to environmental reports, there were more than 3,000 hotspots in Sumatra at the peak of the haze crisis in March alone.

This compared to about 2,700 in June last year.

The next dry season will occur between June and October, and experts are concerned illegal land clearing in Sumatra will result in large-scale fires.

"If they deliberately set fires to clear land, particularly if it's land being cleared illegally, they are not going to listen to anyone who tells them not to start the fire," said Mr Faizal Parish, Director of Global Environment Centre, a non-governmental organisation based in Malaysia.

"They won't take immediate action to put out the fire. The problem (in Sumatra) is the need for active enforcement on the ground."

Worse, the March fires have not yet been put out completely.

Mr Parish said: "(About) 90 per cent of smoke and haze is coming from peat. Fires can remain burning underground for months and then come back up to the surface during dry periods.

"So, sometimes when there's rain, the surface fire goes out but is still smouldering on the ground. A few days later, or a week later, the fire can re-emerge again from underground to the surface."

Mr Parish said the fires deep within the peat smouldered for as long as six months between 1997 and 1998.

That was also the year strong El Nino conditions set in.

How warm a particular stretch of the Pacific Ocean is could provide an indication of an El Nino pattern.

Experts say the sea surface temperatures have to consistently be 0.5 degrees Celsius above a long-term average for an El Nino season to be declared and this part of the Pacific Ocean has been exceeding these thresholds since April.

In Singapore, experts say 1997 was also characterised by the lowest annual rainfall measured in the Republic since 1948.

Assistant Professor Winston Chow from the National University of Singapore's Geography Department said: "In June, July and August, we should be experiencing South West Monsoon or summer monsoon conditions where wind direction comes from the south or south west.

"You still have rainfall occurring. But what happens during El Nino is that while the wind conditions more or less remain the same, you can expect less rainfall to happen. On top of that, you would expect higher-than-normal temperatures during the season as well."

Professor Chow said if there are intense fires in Sumatra, the prevailing wind direction would fan the smoke and particulate matter towards Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia.

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