Air pollution is a growing problem in Europe and globally. It impacts outdoor environments of course, but also our workplaces where the likes of carbon monoxide, radon, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and second-hand smoke negatively impact our daily life and our health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 40 million people from the 115 largest cities in Europe are exposed to air exceeding defined thresholds for at least one pollutant. Of course, filter-based air cleaning devices do exist. But the EU-funded consortium APA (Filter-less air pollution abatement system able to clean a wide range of pollutants at ground level for a healthier workplace and more sustainable environment) has found room for improvement in an innovative filter-less technology capable of significantly abating dangerous particles (from PM10 to PM0.01) gases (NOx, CO, SOx, VoC, etc.), viruses and bacteria. Giuseppe Spanto is the coordinator of APA. He accepted our invitation to present the new system to Research*eu magazine and explain to us its advantages compared to existing alternatives.
What is APA and what makes it better than filter-based systems?
Giuseppe Spanto: APA uses only water and mechanical processes. It has been recognised as a Best Available Technology and is very different from what competitors offer because it does not require filters, abates simultaneously particles and chemical pollutants, works at ground level and can be configured in a cluster if needed. It has low running costs and a total cost of ownership (TCO) several times lower than any existing alternative. But there is more: it can trap and destroy nanoparticles as small as 0.01 μm (several times smaller than virus size) and can even be used to detect possible virus presence – thanks to the water used to clean the ambient air. The technology is particularly advantageous during this pandemic period.
How does the system work exactly?
APA is a functioning system based on a three-stage chamber carrying out only mechanical and physical processes, with a patented wet deposition and abatement (multi-quenching) special system called ‘deposition stack’. This enables us to increase overall pollution abatement efficacy to over 95 % and even exceed 99 % of efficacy on the main air pollutants. Depending on customer choices, we can also embed a remote monitoring system that acquires and processes the pollution and environmental data. This system can operate, control and switch on/off the APA without any physical human intervention.
Could you provide one or two examples of concrete use cases?
Our technology is designed to operate independently. It doesn’t consume much energy and only a very small quantity of water. This means we can easily deploy and run it in many countries. We have a large range of interesting and prominent pilots already set up. Two of them are very important, namely the ‘Pollution Free School’ in Rome and the deployment of two APA systems in a rail station in Tel Aviv. In Rome, we deployed an outdoor cluster of three APA devices in a school play area. We achieved a 50 % reduction in particles and NOx concentrations (even black carbon) in only 2 weeks! In Tel Aviv, we also reduced PM and NOx pollution levels by 50 % and 35 % respectively, in just 4 weeks.
Can you tell us more about your other tests in operational settings?
We have deployed over 135 real-world installations so far and tested the technology in very different settings: indoor and outdoor, at industrial sites, business locations and in urban spaces. In all cases, we have been able to consistently demonstrate the capability of APA technology to successfully reduce the widest range of ambient air pollutants while leaving measurements to independent third parties and institutional bodies. What’s truly remarkable is how quickly the positive effects are achieved (usually in a few weeks of activities) and the extent of air cleaning. We have witnessed a 99 % reduction at source in a biomass cogeneration site, as well as an over 60 % reduction inside an airport and in semi-enclosed outdoor urban settings. We have also achieved a 40 % reduction in both particles and gaseous pollution concentrations in outdoor places thanks to our ‘pollution absorbers cluster’ patented approach in a period of only about a month. No other competitors have succeeded in reaching such figures across such a wide range of pollutants.
What has been the feedback from potential customers so far?
We have always received very positive feedback from customers. No negative impacts of the technology were identified, and it has proved flexible and adaptable enough to answer all their needs. Our growing turnover, the skills acquired and the interest from stakeholders demonstrate this success.
This phase 2 project focused on commercialisation and patenting. What did you achieve in this regard? What’s your strategy?
Phase 2 of the SME Instrument project has been very successful, since even during the COVID-19 pandemic we had the end users and test sites to confirm the effects and validate our activities. Thanks to the project’s multilevel approach, we now have many more patents granted in major economies and industrial countries worldwide. This will allow us to scale up faster in the future. Our commercialisation strategy is ready. It will focus on engineering activities and IP transfer models, as well as establishing strong and long-term partnerships with large corporations in different sectors.
What are your follow-up plans now that the project is completed?
Follow-up plans include an important project we recently won as lead SME, named NeZAPoB (Nearly Zero Air Pollution Building). It focuses on new energy efficiency solutions based on the air cleaning power of APA. Besides this project, we are focusing on a second round of investment as well as important parts of the business. These include: enhancing and strengthening the organisation structure and its international mindset at the management and operations level; supporting commercial activities and working capital; extending certification frameworks globally, focusing on the IP transfer models and ‘core technology’ management; and expanding APA solutions for other reachable markets (air treatment units, interior design and smart office, medical sector etc.).
APA, air cleaning, air pollution, filter-less, pollutants, contaminants