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WSU research team develops new style of air filter

Courtesy WSU College of Engineering and Architecture
The team's prototype air filter is seen sitting on top of a flower.

The lead researcher says the product snags both solid particulates and smaller chemical molecules.

Many air filters you can buy are good at trapping particulates in the air. Others are good at pulling in chemicals.

Materials and mechanical engineering professor Katie Zhong believes she and her WSU research team have developed a new type of air filter.

“Our filter can do both simultaneously. That means they capture particulate matter and also toxic chemicals simultaneously,” she said.

Zhong says she and her team have been searching for a few years for materials that have the capability of catching a variety of molecules and are biodegradable. She said they explored soy-based products, but found corn is better at attracting and grabbing molecules of different sizes.

From a manufacturing standpoint, Zhong says corn has at least three advantages. The raw material is plentiful. It’s good at repelling water, so the filters could be used in wet environments. And corn, as a natural substance, can be made into a biodegradable product. She says tests have shown it not only snags large solid particulates, such as residue from burned material, but also smaller formaldehyde molecules.

Zhong says her team’s prototype filter must still be refined and improved. She’s looking for industry partners who view it as a good investment.

“Especially the manufacturing people could collaborate with us to do some scaling up manufacturing. Currently we just can just do the experiments in our lab. That’s very small scale,” she said.

Zhong says there’s been interest from a variety of sources, including international companies, but nothing has yet materialized.

She says the prototype filter comes at an opportune time, given worries about air pollution from the toxic chemicals burned after the train derailment in Ohio and continued threats of wildfire in the Northwest.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.