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Air Cleaning Technologies For Indoor Air Quality (ACT-IAQ): Growing Fresh and Clean Air

Primary Partner: Phytofilter Technologies, Inc.
Project Type: TAD 2006
Web Address:

Technical Description:
This material is based upon work supported by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under Award Number EPA 05 X-83232501-0.

Phytofilter Technologies, Inc. will manufacture a prototype device that will use microbes to actually digest VOCs and turn them into a useful food for plants. For the longest time VOCs have been a pollutant and a major cause of poor indoor quality air. Poor indoor quality air is now listed by the EPA as the fifth leading cause of illness in the country. For the longest time the method of dealing with poor indoor quality air has been ventilation. But Dr. B.C. Wolverton who was a senior scientist at NASA, worked to transform VOCs rather than simply to remove them. Hence a plant filter will be designed which actually absorbs VOCs and than allows the microbes which congregate around the root systems of certain plants to actually digest them. Testing of the planter will take place in Syracuse University's BEESL Laboratory. Challenge gases will include a mixture of VOCs representative of those in a typical indoor environment, including formaldehyde, a carcinogen that is controlled in many indoor air quality-related certification programs. A simulation model will be developed to predict the long term performance of the device under a typical range of indoor environmental conditions. A whole building energy simulation will be conducted to determine the energy and cost savings that can be achieved using the air filtration device for an office building under various climate conditions. Typical HVAC system configurations will be analyzed to determine the best approach to integrate the new filtration device for both indoor air quality and humidity controls. A pilot field demonstration will include incorporating the filter unit into the HVAC system of ICUBE that serves 30-32 office cubicles.

Expected Outcomes:
Indoor air is purified and heating and cooling costs can be reduced by 20 to 30 percent.

It is anticipated that the outcomes of this project will positively impact public health and comfort levels in homes and businesses. The device will be manufactured in New York State. Its adoption in the market place will also create jobs and contribute to New York's economic development. 


A prototype device has been developed by Phytofilter Technologies, Inc. based on the Wolverton filtration technology for use in residential or commercial HVAC systems.

The Wolverton air filtration system is a NASA based spinoff technology which uses a plant root bed of activated carbon, porous shale pebbles, microbes and a wet scrubber to remove VOCs from the air in tightly sealed buildings. The VOCs removed are converted to a food source for indoor plants that offer a green and natural environment indoors. The microbes that are responsible for the conversion can quickly reactivate the carbon so that it does not need to be replaced, unlike the typical carbon filters used for air cleaning which need to be replaced every 3-6 months.

Extensive laboratory testing, evaluation and modelling was completed with the following summarized results:
1. In the full-scale chamber test, the filter system had fairly high initial removal efficiency for formaldehyde and toluene even without plants in the bed. With the plants, the filter system had even higher initial removal efficiency (90% for formaldehyde in the first three days, and over 50% for toluene).

2. In the long-term field demonstration test, with the use of the bio-filter, the ventilation rate can be reduced from 25% to 5% of total air supply without adversely affecting the indoor air quality if formaldehyde and toluene are the target pollutants that dictate the required ventilation rate.

3. It was found that (also studied in the field demonstration test) bed water content had positive effect on formaldehyde removal while negative effect on the toluene removal.

4. The single pass efficiency for formaldehyde and toluene did not show any significant decrease over a period of 60 days of continuous operation, indicating good long-term performance of the bio-filter system.

5. It was found that yearly energy saving potential for Syracuse climate was approximately 10 to 15% in average. The energy saving was 26% for heating, 2% for cooling and 1% for ventilation.

Increased indoor air quality and energy savings through the use of natural indoor plants and their root bed.

For more information:

Phytofilter bio-filtration system

Photo Credit: Phytofilter Technologies, Inc., Saratoga Springs, NY.

Researcher Information:

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