A home air purifier with a cool twist -- cold plasma

The Squair portable air cleaner promises to use cold plasma to fill your space with pollution-gobbling, bacteria-zapping oxygen atoms.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

With its small size, the Squair is great for moving from room to room, taking on travels or setting on your car's dashboard. Squair

Familiar with cold plasma? Where plasma is a type of matter produced by introducing a blast of energy into a gas, splitting molecules into positively and negatively charged electrons, "cold" plasma is generated in a way that involves far fewer ionized molecules. The results can even be close enough to room temperature to touch safely. And now that process could take place in your living room.

A team of inventors in Germany has decided to put the power of cold plasma to use cleaning your air.

They're currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the Squair, a small device that uses cold plasma (also called non-thermal plasma or NTP) technology to split oxygen molecules apart -- creating one positively charged oxygen atom and one negatively charged one. The inventors contend that once these particles hit the air, they can attach to allergens, dust and other harmful particles, either eliminating them or rendering them safe to breathe. For example, when a molecule of dangerous carbon monoxide meets up with a single oxygen atom, it becomes common carbon dioxide (also dangerous in large amounts, of course).

This is similar to air cleaners that use negatively charged ions to zap pollutants in the air, but it has one big difference -- the Squair produces both negatively charged and positively charged particles. The inventors believe this double dose of pollution- and particulate-zapping atoms makes the Squair super-effective at cleaning your air. Plus, cold plasma on your desktop just sounds cool.

For the science behind how the device works, the inventors of the Squair provide a detailed paper showing the results of their research. According to the studies, the Squair was effective in significantly lowering dust, allergens and fungus and mold in the air. In one study, it cut dust particles in the air by two-thirds after running for 18 hours. Another study unrelated to Squair has shown that cold plasma can interfere with the DNA and cellular walls of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so the Squair might be able to keep you healthy in more ways than one.

"NTP technology in Squair products has been proven to be extremely effective in fighting germs, viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold," say the inventors. "Thorough testing has given us a lot of confidence that a new way to fight germs and bacteria like salmonella, SARS and bird flu is born. Even staph bacteria, regarded as the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria known, have been eliminated by NTP."

Company CEO Florian Windeler told Crave the device can handle 30 square meters (about 322 square feet). "Our goal was to get a portable device that is good enough for most bedrooms, offices, hotel rooms and of course cars," he said.

Windeler said that as the Kickstarter campaign continues, Squair will introduce a rechargeable battery that the company tested during the summer as an update. He added that there are no maintenance issues with the Squair -- no filters to clean or parts to wash. You just plug it in and let all those hungry oxygen atoms get to work gobbling up the bad stuff in your air. That would be convenient...

Right now you can snag a Squair for the super-early-bird price of €125 (about US$155, £98, AU$180). That will climb in stepped increments to €239 (about $297, £187, AU$344) as the campaign goes on. The inventors are seeking to raise €79,000 by December 9 and devices are anticipated to ship out worldwide in April 2015.