Final Report: Net Zero Energy Air Filtration: Innovative Filter Media Applications for Improved Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency

EPA Grant Number: SU836136
Title: Net Zero Energy Air Filtration: Innovative Filter Media Applications for Improved Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency
Investigators: Day, Julia
Institution: Kansas State University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: September 1, 2015 through August 31, 2016
Project Amount: $14,981
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2015) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , Sustainable and Healthy Communities , P3 Challenge Area - Sustainable and Healthy Communities


The technical challenge proposed for the research in Phase I of this project was to conceptually design a net-zero energy air filtration device / method to

1) reduce energy use in residential buildings and

2) increase indoor air quality for occupants. In the early design phases, to maximize sustainable outcomes, many possible technical design solutions for dual-purpose existing resources (i.e., sunlight can be harnessed as an energy source
for a filtration device and can also be used or photo catalytic decontamination of airborne particles) were explored. Due to the limited time and resources available, it was not initially expected that the students would have a fully operable prototype at the completion of year-one, but rather, that they would research and conceptualize the given problem to prototype key components of a potential design solution. However, the team was in fact able to prototype and build several iterations of their designs throughout the process. The final iteration of the team’s air filtration design solution, once further developed, has possible applications in both existing and new residential and commercial buildings, naturally ventilated buildings, and high performance buildings. The potential impacts for both energy and cost savings are tremendous. Additionally, the proposed project may benefit existing programs, such as the EPA’s Indoor airPLUS program, Building America, DOE Challenge Home, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ENERGY STAR®, and U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes; these programs may be able to leverage the proposed design outcome to enhance and meet program objectives. Research shows that a “key gap and area of research is the cost-effective application of ASHRAE Standard 62.2 - 2013 with systems and approaches that reduce energy consumption, improve humidity control, and improve indoor air quality” (Martin, 2014, xii). As minimum ventilation standard rates increase for high performance homes, it is critical to mitigate negative energy impacts. As such, there is a great need for net-zero air filtration. Currently, this type of technology does not yet exist. This particular challenge is complex and cannot be solved by one discipline alone, therefore, one of the team’s primary goals was to assemble an interdisciplinary student team to innovatively approach and test the feasibility of the proposed technical challenge. The concept of successfully filtering air through net-zero energy use is challenging yet innovative. The faculty team knew there were many potential opportunities to power this type of technology through dual purposing existing resources or objects, but we also did not want to limit the students in terms of innovation and creativity. The students were initially told very basic information about the project, and the project was given to them and described as a typical studio design project. Students were encouraged to research ways to power their device, and to research ways that they might exploit elements within the built environment (such as lights, computer fans, furnishings, etc.) to facilitate net-zero energy filtration before settling on their final design. After much research, the team decided to pursue solar power as the means to power their device.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The expected outputs of the project included:

1) An innovative conceptual design solution to the posed technical challenge of net-zero energy filtration.

2) Basic prototyping and / or simulation models of various components of the proposed solution(s).

Accomplishments related to outputs 1 & 2 are as follows:

The team was indeed able to provide a conceptual for a net-zero filter. The team achieved a conceptual design, developed an operational prototype, and did testing of this prototype in an environmental chamber. In addition, technical feasibility of this filtering device has been demonstrated from the test results on filtering performance (see results section below). The team also achieved progress towards the net-zero feasibility of the project. After selection of an
appropriate fan motor for air circulation, the team selected a photovoltaic power system that included a photovoltaic panel, battery pack, and charge control system. The initial prototype demonstrates operation by either the battery pack or by photovoltaic power under a variety of conditions ranging from direct to diffuse sunlight. Additional analysis and calculations suggest that the system could likely maintain power with good sky exposure, even on northern façades of buildings. Refinement of the photovoltaic power system in phase II will include broader experimentation with different types of photovoltaic panels, batteries, and power control systems with the goal of demonstrating effective 24-7 operation of the prototype under a more extensive set of realistic conditions.

3) A report documenting conceptual solutions for the proposed project.
This report serves as the documentation for achievement of output 3.

4) A design presentation.
The students have conducted several design presentations for the faculty advisors. In addition, the students will present their designs at the P3 Expo in April.

The proposed final outcomes for the P1 phase of the project included:

1) Research on sustainable ways to naturally drive air through low pressure drop filter media,
2) Knowledge gained on how to construct and power a sustainable air filtration device,

Accomplishments related to outcomes 1 & 2 are as follows:

For the first 5 weeks of the project, the students conducted research related to filter media, existing air filters, and different ways of powering devices. This research helped the students inform their designs.

3) The production of applicable and conceptual results for further development in Phase II, and
As previously mentioned, students were able to conceptualize and design a functional prototype a net-zero filter, which they used and tested to provide experimental data documenting its success (see results below).

4) Educational opportunities for the local community and K-State students / faculty about the project and aspects of sustainability.
Now that the students have conceptualized and built a working prototype, we will be able to share their project and results with the local community and other K-State students and faculty members as well. To achieve this, both a local newspaper (The Mercury) and the Communications and Marketing Division of K-State, have offered and agreed to write a story about the P3 Phase I project. We will use these opportunities to disseminate the results of the project, and associated aspects of sustainability, to the local community and K-State faculty/staff.

Overall, all outputs and outcomes related to Phase I of the project were achieved. The previously conceptualized outputs/outcomes for Phase I and respective results have generated valuable data and guidance for further development of this project in Phase II.


Ultimately, the student team accomplished the goals and outcomes outlined in the initial EPA P3 Phase I proposal. This idea, of net-zero air filtration, is certainly innovative, and furthermore, the quantitative and qualitative benefits to people, prosperity, and planet are evident, especially in the demonstrated health benefits of this unit. The initial testing showed that the unit removed 84% of the particulates in the air in just one hour of testing. This included all particles 0.3 microns and larger. This is a significant health benefit for people. It is also significant that this kind of effect can be accomplished without using additional grid energy and carbon load on the environment.

Long term testing is required to understand optimal use, but the initial results are very encouraging. In addition to the technical details discussed in the sections below, it is important to note that an entrepreneurial approach was taken at the start of the project, and guest lectures (from the K-State Marking Department) were given to the student team. These guest lectures provided students an opportunity to develop market awareness and an approach to innovative product development that kept the “end-game” in mind for the project. Market research, research on the competition within this market niche, and Sales strategies were discussed. The students engaged their community through participation in Kansas State’s Launch business competition, further refining their ideas about the product and its market. While this exercise was extremely valuable, it will be important to integrate the marketing and business strategies even further in Phase II.

Product development skill building was accomplished by students working with a vendor to develop real-world solutions that were direct and simple. Computer modeling skills (Rhino) were also honed in the development of needed custom components that were then 3D printed by the students. This process oriented approach to design stretched the team and challenged them to think more creatively and more quickly with regards to their solutions. A “fail quickly and fail often” mentality was encouraged in exploring and ruling out good vs. bad ideas. The students learned what worked and what did not work through multiple design iterations. The outcomes of this process are easy to see: early “design charrettes” (i.e., an intensive planning session where designers and others collaborate on a vision for development) produced a multiplicity of potential solutions; research and refinement narrowed this field to a single viable solution; multiple iterations of design configurations refined this solution into a working, functioning net-zero air filtration prototype.

Lastly, while the various material components of this project were fairly inexpensive, more prototyping and investigation are needed in Phase II of the project to determine specific production costs and life-cycle analyses.

Supplemental Keywords:

green building, alternative construction material, architectural design, green energy, energy conservation, net zero energy, improved indoor air quality.