Low-cost air ventilation offers hope for children to return to school

The right of children to return to school for their education is challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially if the risk of infection in their classrooms is high. Reducing the viral load in the ambient air can be achieved using expensive high-tech air-filter technologies, however schools in remote and financially challenged regions may not be able to afford such systems.

An alternative solution using a low-cost but high-efficiency air ventilating system now offers hope for children to return to their classrooms. Developed by the team of Dr. Frank Helleis at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC) in Mainz, Germany, the technology has now become available for Southeast Asia and the Philippines under a technology transfer agreement facilitated by an expert team of the GreenTech Initiative under the Enhanced EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI), with the support of the European Commission’s Directorates General for Research and Innovation and for International Partnerships.

To make this solution a reality, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has approved the proposal of the University of San Carlos to conduct research and pilot-test the air ventilating system designed to reduce the virus load in ambient air under local conditions. Through the research and development program on emerging and re-emerging diseases of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), the DOST has allocated funding of up to EUR165T for a 12-month period. Upon completion of these tests, the technology will be rolled out to schools in the Philippines as well as to all other interested ASEAN Member States.

The University’s proposal entitled “Developing and Implementing Test Beds for Low-cost Ventilation Systems Applicable in Tropical Regions for Risk Reduction of Infectious Aerosol/Virus Transmission” was selected for priority funding by the DOST PCHRD, in a letter dated October 1, 2021. The low-cost ventilator system is designed to combat virus transmission in enclosed public spaces such as classrooms through the simple yet dramatic removal of respiratory aerosols, which potentially include coronavirus particles from indoor air (see figure below). The system is deliberately designed for practical applications by using low-cost and readily available materials, which are commonly accessible in the market.  The system can easily be installed and does not take up so much space, so it can be appropriately used in open spaces such as classrooms, conference rooms, and sports halls. In fact, the ventilator system is already installed successfully in some schools of Germany.

Schematic representation of the exhaust air system in a classroom, © Andrea Koppenborg, used with permission.

Through the DOST PCHRD funding, scientists and engineers from the University of San Carlos, who will lead this project locally, together with the team of Dr. Helleis of MPIC, will further study the system, perform the necessary modifications and fine-tuning of the design, to quickly adapt it for the tropical conditions and the typical building layouts of classrooms and other open learning spaces in the Philippines.

See related story in the Philippine Star.

For more information, please contact:
Pierrick Fillon-Ashida, EU DG-RTD, ASEAN Desk Officer
Dr. Jaime Montoya, Executive Director, Philippine Council for Health Research and Development
Dr. Frank Helleis, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry: Dr. Michael Braun, E-READI GreenTech

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on 8 August 1967. The ASEAN Member States are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam. On 31 December 2015, the ASEAN Community was formally established. The ASEAN Secretariat is based in Jakarta.

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of Member States including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.

The Enhanced Regional EU-ASEAN Dialogue Instrument (E-READI) is a development cooperation program that facilitates cooperation and dialogue between the EU and ASEAN in policy areas of joint interest. Drawing on the EU’s experience of regional integration, the E-READI policy dialogue facility further strengthens both the ASEAN regional integration process as well as the overall ASEAN-EU partnership. As a component of E-READI, GreenTech is the EU-ASEAN Dialogue on Green Technologies and Innovation Mapping: ‘From innovative Green Technologies to business e-ready Solutions’, which facilitates proofs of feasibility in pilot activities targeting Plastic Waste Management (Pilot 1), Sustainable Manufacturing (Pilot 2), and COVID-19 research cooperation (Pilot 3).

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