If you’re like many building owners and facility managers, you’ve probably been hearing about bipolar ionization technology and how effective it is at fighting COVID-19 and other pathogens in your indoor air. You also might be wondering how the system works and what is required to have bipolar ionization installed.
At Yale Mechanical, we’ve performed more than 100 Needlepoint Bipolar Ionization (NBPI) installations in recent months, ranging in size from single furnaces to campus-wide coverage of every major air handling system. Before we describe how it’s installed, let’s first explain how the technology works.
The NBPI system from Global Plasma Solutions works by elevating the ionization level of the air in a building. That simply means there is more electrical charge on the tiny particles floating in the air. That charge creates a harsher environment for pathogens to survive, whether airborne or on surfaces. Ionization is a natural process and is all around us all the time. It’s the reason that outside air is “fresher” near moving water and high in the mountains. NBPI generates ionization designed to be incorporated into a building’s HVAC system to provide the same effect.
NBPI dramatically shortens the timeframe that an airborne virus particle stays viable (able to attach and reproduce to a new host). When the virus particle encounters a charged particle in the air, the cell membrane of the virus is damaged by the charge and can no longer reproduce. Aviation Clean Air published a study in June of 2020 demonstrating that NBPI inactivated (killed) 99.4% of the COVID-19 virus it was exposed to within 30 minutes.
But the benefits of bipolar ionization installation don’t begin or end with fighting pathogens. The technology also reduces airborne particulate and system energy consumption. And many of our customers, like St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church, have found it also helps eliminate odors and freshens the air in your building.
There are several NBPI product lines designed to work with all the common HVAC system setups. For anything 12 tons or smaller there is a single unitary piece of equipment about the size of a decorative brick that is installed in the supply airstream via rare earth magnets. It is wired to 24 or 120V power and turned on. That’s it. Then the device emits ions to elevate the ion level in the space. This simple setup can typically be installed in an hour.
For HVAC systems larger than 12 tons, a modular NBPI package made of standard components is combined according to the size and setup of that system. For most applications, the ion emitter bar is fastened to the face of the system cooling coil with rare earth magnets and the power supply is attached to the unit casing. Once assembled, it is wired to 24, 120 or 230V power and turned on. Installation time for this setup typically ranges from four to eight hours.
Like any mechanical system, some maintenance is required to keep the equipment running efficiently. Fortunately, maintenance for NPBI equipment is rather minimal. The main requirement is keeping the ion emitter brush heads clean. Since they are putting off an electrical charge, they are charged themselves. Anything with charge attracts anything with the opposite charge. Over time the emitters will collect dirt. If they are not cleaned periodically, they will eventually crust over entirely and no longer emit ions.
The product lines for the smaller systems have an auto-cleaning feature with a wiping arm that swings through the emitters every three days to prevent particles from accumulating. For the larger modular systems that are assembled in place, the emitters should be cleaned annually. They can be cleaned using a nylon brush and isopropyl alcohol if needed. At Yale, we incorporate this cleaning into our standard filter change cycle, so they get cleaned more often than annually at convenient (inexpensive) times.
As you can see, having bipolar ionization installed is a fast, convenient and powerful way to fight COVID-19. We’ve installed it in our office. If you have any questions about the system or would like more information, I would be happy to talk with you in more detail about the system and its benefits.