Fighting Indoor Air Pollution with Plant Root Bacteria
Americans spend around 90% of their time indoors breathing in air containing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at up to 10 times the concentrations of outdoor air. VOCs include the cancerous formaldehyde and other chemicals released daily by building materials, cleaning supplies, paint, and other materials commonly found in both residential and commercial buildings. In office buildings, VOC levels can lead to Sick Building Syndrome with symptoms of headaches, fatigue, nausea, and eye irritation and result in a 9% decrease in office productivity which costs the U.S about $125 billion every year.
Current methods used to combat this problem are ventilation and filtration. However, both methods have drawbacks. Ventilation requires the incoming air to be heated or cooled to the indoor temperature, which can be an energy intensive process depending on the outdoor environment. Filters have their own problems as they can get clogged or even contribute to air contamination if they are not replaced. The third option is biowalls, vertical structures covered in plants that can help filter toxins from indoor air.
Team BREATHE’s Solution:
Biowalls can be split into 2 categories: active and passive systems. The active systems best filter the air by pushing the air directly over the root zone. Despite the air filtration benefit, this system can be energy and water intensive, and plant maintenance in more difficult. Passive systems on the other hand, have easy maintenance, low energy needs, and low water needs, but since the air doesn’t get to the root zones, it does not filter air as well. Team BREATHE aims to bridge the gap between these two models by designing an innovative system that brings the air filtration benefits of the active wall to the low-energy and low-maintenance qualities of the passive system. We also aim to investigate which plants host root bacterial communities that best filter out VOCs, so the final product will be a biowall system optimized with low energy, low maintenance, and high rates of VOC filtration.
How YOU can help:
Unfortunately, the most reliable data collection methods are also the most costly. Our methodology requires expensive molecular biology kits and supplies in addition the costs of renting greenhouse space, prototyping biowall designs, and purchasing VOCs for testing. Your support would contribute to the successful completion of our project and would lead to a low cost, low energy product that can sustainably filter indoor air. Any and all donations would be greatly appreciated by the team. Thank you for your interest and support.
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