IAQ concept

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced Phase Two winners of the Cleaner Indoor Air During Wildfires Challenge. Challenge winners received prizes of $50,000 for their innovative prototypes that aim to clean indoor air during wildfires. 

“These two novel technologies have the potential to provide effective and lower cost options to improve indoor air quality and protect health from wildfire smoke,” says Chris Frey, EPA’s assistant administrator for Research and Development. “Having technologies that clean indoor air is becoming even more important to protecting public health as people across the country are experiencing poor air quality, in part due to wildfires.”

The acreage burned by wildfire in the U.S. has increased for the last three decades and is predicted to continue to increase in the future. Wildfires release many pollutants that worsen air quality in surrounding areas. Particle pollution, specifically fine particulate matter (PM2.5 or particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers), is a significant component of wildfire smoke and a known health risk.  

Wildfire smoke exposure is particularly harmful for people with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma, lung disease or cardiovascular disease. Smoke can spread many miles during wildfires causing poor air quality that can lead to significant health effects in surrounding communities. Smoke exposures during wildfires can be reduced by staying indoors with closed doors and windows and cleaning the indoor air, if possible.

Current indoor air cleaning technologies have multiple limitations that prevent widespread use, including the cost of purchase, operation, and maintenance, as well as noise levels and dependence on electrical power, which wildfires or rolling blackouts can disrupt.

To address these limitations, EPA developed this challenge to focus attention on the problem, inspire the development of innovative solutions, and spur the market to commercialize effective solutions. Phase One Challenge winners developed detailed design proposals for affordable approaches to keep indoor air as clean as possible during periods when outdoor PM2.5 concentrations are elevated, such as during wildfire smoke events. Winners and honorable mentions from this first phase of the challenge were invited to submit prototypes of their technologies for evaluation in the second phase of the challenge.

During Phase Two of the challenge, five teams submitted prototype technologies for evaluation. EPA worked closely with partners from federal, state and local agencies as well as academia and industry to assess the prototypes through qualitative and quantitative evaluations. The top two solutions are each receiving $50,000.

Challenge Winners:

• The Cocoon: An Accessible Low-Cost Air Cleaner for Safer Spaces During Wildfires — An air cleaner that uses a large, tube-shaped, fabric filter combined with a box fan capable of operating on a battery power to create a low-cost device. Proposed by Elliot Gall, Brett Stinson, Matthew Moore, and Warren Gunn of Portland State University, Mechanical and Materials Engineering, of Portland.

• Metalmark Clean Air Device – A device that uses a novel nanomaterial coating on a filter to enable self-cleaning, prolonging the life of the filter and thereby minimizing the operating costs. Proposed by Sissi Liu, Tanya Shirman, and Elijah Shirman of Metalmark Innovations, Inc., of Boston.

Read more about the challenge here. For related content, check out these air quality protection tips for exterior maintenance workers.