Particle physics research

Launch of TU Eindhoven research on air purification in schools

Can air purifiers in classrooms contain corona infections? This is the question that Bert Blocken, professor of building physics at TU Eindhoven, virologist Marc Van Ranst from KU Leuven and Leen Peeters from the consulting firm Th!nk-E want to answer in a large-scale study in 100 schools spread across the Netherlands and Belgium. With help from more than ten manufacturers, scientists will place air-purifying devices in around 500 classrooms and track corona contamination among students. In the Netherlands, the first scrubber was installed on Friday, writes the TU/e ​​​​in this press release.

Also interesting: a recent interview with Bert Blocken on Radio 4 Brainport

With this study, Blocken, Van Ranst and Peeters want to clarify to what extent small droplets of saliva, called aerosols, can be purified from the air and whether there is a relationship between air purification and the spread of the coronavirus. in schools. As far as we know, no similar research of this magnitude has been conducted in schools before, Blocken says: “This will allow us to potentially avoid school closures in the future.”

The researchers plan to place air purifiers in five classrooms per school. The idea is for the school administration to monitor the number of corona infections in these five rooms – as well as in five classrooms without air purifiers – until next summer.

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At the same time, researchers measure whether the amount of virus particles in the air decreases with special measuring equipment. This equipment is composed of sensors that measure the concentration of CO2, the amount of aerosols, temperature, humidity, sound volume and viral load in the air. For the children themselves, nothing changes; they will be taught in the same way.

Overwhelming response

Elementary schools can participate in the project free of charge. So far, the enthusiasm has been overwhelming. In Belgium, registration is no longer possible. There, air cleaners are currently being installed in abundance. The Netherlands is also approaching the limit in terms of the number of participating educational institutions. On Friday, the first installation was installed in our country, at Kindcentrum De Kiezel in Best.

The director of De Kiezel hopes the air purification will help keep schools open. “I heard about the research through a parent and thought: this way we can help keep schools open. It costs us neither money nor extra effort because we already keep track of the number of children who are absent due to corona,” says Marjolein van Lieshout from De Kiezel.

Followed

This project follows previous research by Blocken and his research team at TU Eindhoven on the spread of aerosols in indoor sports facilities and stadiums, among other places. One of their conclusions: a combination of ventilation and air purification is a good precautionary measure – ventilation alone does not sufficiently remove aerosols.

Blocken: “Unless there is sufficient ventilation capacity, but that means that large amounts of cold outside air have to be constantly reheated. This is irresponsible with current energy prices and in the context of climate change.

Strict conditions

In countries like Germany, South Korea and Australia, air purifiers are already in full use. Blocken therefore wants to study whether air purification can be a remedy for the Dutch and Belgian lockdowns. “In 2020, we were pioneers on this subject for a time, then it escaped and we were overtaken by other countries.”

He emphasizes that he has no commercial interest. Manufacturers who meet strict conditions, such as testing by an independent body, can make their products available for free. Schools are not obligated to purchase these facilities after the study.

Blocken: “I don’t think we can fight the corona crisis just by focusing on behavior. On the contrary, I believe that technological solutions can also help fight the pandemic. The date when Blocken, Peeters and Van Ranst will be able to submit the final results of the study is not yet known. It depends on the peer review process, the academic review of the project.

The following companies provide air purifiers free of charge for the duration of the project: Euromate, Allora Factory, Philips, Signify, Ergopolis Distribution, Dehaco, Trox and Deltrian. Vaisala and ABB will also provide additional equipment.

Also interesting: Use buses, cars or bicycles to measure air quality? Breathe will