26 November 2013

Chemist gets environmental prize for inventing fresh air

Atmospheric chemistry

A wrinkled nose isn’t the worst thing about a stench. When air smells truly foul, it’s often due to the presence of hazardous gases. Matthew Johnson, an environmental chemist at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Chemistry, has now been awarded one of Denmark’s top environmental honours for his revolutionary method of removing polluting gases from air in industrial and domestic settings.

Johnson will receive the Aase and Einar Danielsen Foundation’s “Environmental Prize 2013” on November 26, 2013. The 250,000 kroner (34,000 EUR) award will be used to fund Johnson’s continued research into air purification.

Cheaper, better and more natural air cleaning

Johnson’s method, known as “photochemical air purification”, has proven itself to be the cheapest and most effective solution for the elimination of airborne pollutants. Removing gases from air usually presents a serious challenge and competing purification methods are both expensive and energy intensive. This can be because pollutants are burned off or frozen to ease their removal.

Airwash transforms gas into dust

Photochemical air purification is unique. The method builds upon the natural self-cleaning capacity of the earth’s atmosphere. It transforms gas to dust, which is much easier to cleanse from the atmosphere. When gaseous pollutants are emitted and rise into the atmosphere, they react with ozone and the sun’s UV rays. This encounter causes gas molecules to gather in larger and larger structures that eventually grow to form particles, or dust granules.

Sticky electricity removes dust

In nature, falling rain sheds this dust from the atmosphere. In Johnson’s invention, dust is pulled onto an electrostatically charged metal plate. And as anyone who has ever tried to wipe dust from a TV screen knows, static electricity attracts dust like a magnet does metal shavings.

Patented and developed to help industrial polluters

Johnson teaches environmental chemistry at the University of Copenhagen. His method was patented in 2009 and during the summer of 2012, together with the University of Copenhagen, he reached an agreement with Infuser A/S to supply air purifiers for industrial firms surrounded by smell-plagued neighbours. 

Large prize awarded by real estate company

The Aase and Ejnar Danielsen Foundation was established in 1975 by Ejnar Danielsen, founder of DADES, a real-estate investment firm. The foundation is the majority shareholder in DADES, “Det Almindelig Danske Ejendomsselskab A/S”. The Foundation’s Environmental Prize is intended to award individuals and/or institutions that work towards a cleaner environment, including the dissemination of knowledge about and the use of environmentally helpful solutions. The 250,000 DKK Environmental Prize is awarded annually, on November 26.