Portable and HVAC Induct air purifiers are convenient devices that can instantly amplify the amount of air cleaned in a given space. Considering the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on indoor air quality (IAQ), it's no surprise that many of us are trying to become subject matter experts on traditional and electronic air purifier technologies.
With offices, schools, and universities installing multiple forms of traditional and electronic air cleaning technologies in their facilities, it is essential to understand their impact on occupied indoor environments. Amongst all these air purifier technologies, bipolar ionization has become the focus of numerous facilities in both public and private sectors nationwide.
In this article, the technology subject matter experts here at Sanalife have entirely broken down bipolar ionization technology from function to benefits and often unknown harmful side effects.
Bipolar ionization technology, also known as needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI), is the method of charging particles to clean the air. Bipolar ionization is often installed directly into existing HVAC systems within commercial or education environments. These compact and often high voltage devices use electrostatically charged plates to produce negatively or positively charged ions.
These ions then attract and capture certain airborne particulates and pathogens. Most NPBI manufacturers claim the technology is also effective against the virus that causes COVID-19. Negative ionization in portable air purifiers uses a variation of NPBI; however, these systems are tested and often certified for continued safe use within occupied spaces.
There are two main methods found in bipolar ionization units. The standard air ionizer uses high voltage electricity to electronically charge (or ionize) air molecules, turning particles into separated negative and positive particles, forcing them to seek out and latch onto another particle to form a compound and balance itself out.
In essence, all of the air that passes by the bipolar air ionizer is doused with high energy and split apart. You might find water vapor molecules, for example, can be divided into two negative oxygen molecules and a positive hydrogen molecule. When it splits, it then wants to recombine to become a neutralized ion. It may seek out a particle that turns it into a hydroxyl radical (OH), pulling hydrogens away from pathogen molecules.
Once this process occurs, the weight of the new molecule is too heavy, and it then sinks (or is grounded) into the air purifier. This is one of the ways that ionizer air purifiers can remove virus particles in the air.
Another method uses an electrostatic discharge (ESD) ionizer (or a balanced ion generator) to neutralize a static charge and also remove harmful particles in the air. Ionic air purifiers use the electrostatic discharge method, and they can come with a fan or without a fan. With this method, the particles are charged through electrostatic attraction emitted by the air purifier. The particles are then attracted to a nearby conductor to be grounded and removed from the air source.
Unfortunately, bipolar ionization technology is said to produce ozone, and, in indoor spaces, the ozone may be produced in a quantity that can be hazardous to health. Ozone might also interact with other air contaminants and increase pollutants like formaldehyde.
Studies have found negatively charging air ions to be an effective way of removing particulate matter from the air. This was found when researching other devices that happened to emit ions (like air conditioning systems), which were found to produce ions and inactivated viruses, including influenza.
Negative ion emitting devices saw an uptick during the SARS epidemic. Regular products like toothbrushes and refrigerators contain negative ion generators, and consumers were encouraged to buy them. Manufacturers of air purifier devices suggest that ionization can reduce SARS-2-CoV, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease in circulating air. However, the EPA has not stated this methodology is proven nor an effective technology for removing the SARS-2-CoV.
The EPA still considers bipolar ionization to be a new technology. It is often recommended to only consider air purifier technologies substantiated by extensive clinical third-party, FDA-compliant, and real-world testing.
Within the recent resurgence of IAQ-focused technologies, ionizers have been compared with UV-C Light because they both claim to reduce common airborne pathogens from the air. However, each technology works in a drastically different process.
UV-C, UVGI, or PCO Technology uses UV light (typically 254nm wavelength), a type of radiation, to kill the cell DNA and reduce airborne pathogens. Comparatively, bipolar ionization uses high voltage energy to split the ions and disrupt many pathogen's surface proteins, rendering them inactive.
When comparing the two overall, you'll find that UV-C light technology is one often featured in recommended and certified air purifier systems. These systems often have to comply with strict CARB Certification and UL Certification requirements.
In terms of their effectiveness against airborne pathogens and viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), unlike bipolar ionization, UV-C light has significantly more research and recommendations of efficacy. The CDC provides further insight into the safe use of UV-C/UVGI technologies in education and workplace environments against SARS-CoV-2.
Many medical facilities, restaurants, fitness centers, schools, and businesses have already installed portable air purifiers in their buildings as a way of reducing the potential spread of airborne viruses and pathogens. However, these facilities can often implement air purifier controls not suited for their spaces or use unproven electronic air cleaning technologies without guidance.
For numerous industries seeking to reduce exposure to mold spores, viruses, bacteria, VOCs, and common airborne contaminants, bipolar ionization may not be an effective solution. The combination of the technology's limitations, high cost, unproven testing, and potential ozone production makes bipolar ionization the wrong solution for most facilities.
From industry subject matter experts to public health officials, the most recommended air purifier technology to use is HEPA Filtration. From HEPA's decades of testing and versatile applications, air purifiers featuring HEPA filters can provide a wide range of benefits. Whether it's increasing air changes within a room or reducing common airborne pathogens, Sanalife's team of experts will always first and foremost recommend a HEPA air purifier.
At Sanalife, our helpful team of experts can provide you a complete blueprint to improving IAQ within your facility. From our range of product offerings with True HEPA Filtration, Activated Carbon Filters, and PCO (UV-C) Technology, our team can help you determine the right technology for your school or business. Learn about our traditional and electronic air purifier technologies by visiting: sanalifewellness.com/technologies.