U of S researchers working on device that removes COVID-19 virus from air

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are developing a way to sanitize the air we breathe to help protect us from catching COVID-19.

Filtering device could be attached to personal and commercial ventilation systems

U of S researchers are working on a filtration system that would remove the COVID-19 virus from the air we breathe. (University of Saskatchewan)

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are developing a way to sanitize the air we breathe to help protect us from catching COVID-19.

The scientists are testing how effective their device is at deactivating the airborne pathogens and the feasibility of integrating it into current air conditioning systems. 

"When the virus or the droplets that contain virus pass through [the device], the virus gets oxidized or kind of burned on the filter," said Jafar Soltan, a U of S chemical and biological engineering professor who is working on the project.

Soltan said the filter uses electricity to create active oxygen species on the surface of the filter.

The coronavirus is believed to be passed from person to person through droplets in the air when we speak, sneeze or cough.

The U of S team, which consists of engineers as well as personnel from VIDO-Intervac, have designed the system in a lab using a "surrogate" virus that's not harmful, but acts like COVID-19.

Speaking with Saskatoon Morning's Leisha Grebinski, Soltan said the team will go to VIDO to test the device with the real virus once it has confirmation the system is highly effective.

University of Saskatchewan Professor Jafar Soltan says the technology could be used to filter out all types of harmful viruses. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC News)

CLS helps optimize

The team is using the Canadian Light Source at the U of S to take high resolution images of their device while it is in action to gain a deeper knowledge of the sanitation process. They will use that information to optimize its performance.

See how the Canadian Light Source synchrotron works

3 years ago
Duration 2:52
The synchrotron uses bright light to help researchers look inside objects at a level of detail not possible using a traditional X-ray or high-powered microscope.

Soltan, who has been studying ways to get rid of organic pollutants in the air for the past 15 years, said that once the system is perfected it can be installed for personal and commercial use.

"Something like a shoe box that maybe you can put in a living room, for example, or some kind of device that you can add to the existing air circulation in your house or in an office environment," he said.


Soltan said that if the team can perfect the system it could be used for everything from the common flu to combating different variations of the COVID virus that might crop up in the future.

"There might be a possibility that, for example, some different forms of viruses may jump from animals to humans. So this is really a new paradigm that we have to think of cleaning up the air and we have to be careful about this," he said.

A lot more work needs to be done to make sure the system is safe to use, but Soltan is optimistic they're on the right path and should have greater clarity by June.

With files from Saskatoon Morning