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Plants, natural fibre ionisers effective in reducing COVID-19 droplets transmission: Study

2021 02 26 Plant-based ionisers (500x281)
Experimental set-up showing small and large plant-based ioniser

Plants, natural fibre ionisers and air filters have been shown to be effective in reducing aerosol concentrations in the air. The Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), together with our A*STAR sister institutes as well as our research partners (Temasek Foundation, Institutes of Higher Learning, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and various public agencies), have worked together on various scientific studies on potential mitigation measures against COVID-19.

The COVID-19 environmental mitigation measures provide solutions which help to supplement the current safe management measures and will support a safer resumption of activities in Phase 3 as the nation continues to reopen in phases.

Dr Ady Suwardi, Deputy Head of Soft Materials at IMRE, said that plant and natural fibre ionisers were found to be the most useful in reducing the concentration of aerosol particles in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Ionisers purify the air by generating negative ions, by charging up aerosol particles which then stick onto surfaces such as the floor and the walls.

2021 02 26 high speed camera visualization on behavior of aerosol near wall surface (500x386)
High speed camera visualization showing the difference in the behaviour of aerosol near the wall/surface when the ioniser is off and on. Ionisers causes the aerosol to be deposited on the walls/surfaces.

Professor Loh Xian Jun, Executive Director of IMRE, said: "Plants are naturally able to generate ions, so when it is fitted with an electrical ioniser device, the plant is stimulated such that it is able to emit up to a million times more ions compared to a normal plant."

The research team’s experiments showed that the plant ioniser was able to reduce the number of aerosol particles in a room from 4,000 particles per cubic cm to 100 particles per cubic cm in a span of six minutes, compared with 25 minutes without an ioniser.

2021 02 26 Laser sheet visualization showing swirling patterns of aerosol (500x568)
Laser sheet visualization showing the swirling patterns of aerosol around the plant-based ionisers when they are turned on.

Link to news article published on 26 February 2021 in Straits Times:

Link to more information on the science behind the COVID-19 environmental mitigation measures:

Watch the video on “Understanding the world of the invisible – How do droplets travel?”