Scientists tackle indoor air pollution

Filtering out pollutants from indoor air is very important for the health of Canadians - as we spend up to 90% of our time indoors.

By Rowan Hollinger

Mehraneh Ghavami using the CLS' HXMA beamline.

People on average spend nearly 90% of their time indoors and, especially in the cold winter months in Canada, this statistic can be even higher. With all that time spent indoors, filtering out pollutants from indoor air is very important for the health of Canadians.

Researchers from the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have been developing a catalyst for a new type of air purifying technique that would clean air at room temperature.

“Ozone is one of the strongest purifying agents that has been used in the water treatment industry for a long time. In our research, we use ozone and an effective catalyst to purify indoor air from Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs,” explained PhD student Mehraneh Ghavami.

Ghavami and co-researcher Dr. Jafar Soltan used the HXMA beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at USask to discover which types of metal catalysts would work best for eliminating pollutants out of the air and recently published their findings.

Their air purifying system uses ozone gas and a catalyst to remove indoor air pollutants and turn them into carbon dioxide and water.

Ning Chen, co-author on this paper, at the HXMA beamline.

Air pollutants such as VOCs are commonly found in indoor environments. They enter our homes and workplaces through items like cleaning products and new furniture. These air pollutants cause undesirable health effects, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, and irritation of the ears, nose, and throat.

“We know that the concentration of VOCs is usually high in indoor air – up to 10 times higher than in outdoor air,” said Ghavami.

“So, it’s very important to have a system to provide fresh and clean air for us.”

The aim of their research is to make a better catalyst and apply it in the real world. Ghavami believes their findings could be implemented in every building that automatically cleans the air, including businesses, schools, and homes.

“We already see catalysts in many different fields, including in cars,” explained Ghavami. “I can imagine some kind of device that uses a layer of a catalyst.”

The team, while currently working to eliminate VOCs, is already beginning to research how to eliminate another kinds of pollutants such as bacteria or viruses.

“Right now, we are working on VOCs that are chemicals,” said Ghavami. “We want to try this work on bacteria, viruses, and even the virus that causes COVID-19.”

She already had some ideas about other versions of catalysts to try for her team’s next research projects.

Ghavami, M., Soltan, J., & Chen, N. (2021). Enhancing Catalytic Ozonation of Acetone and Toluene in Air Using MnO x/Al2O3 Catalysts at Room Temperature. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

To arrange an interview, contact:

Victoria Schramm
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Light Source