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Bringing nature indoors – improving air quality with bipolar ionization technology

Enter Building owners and property managers adopt air quality technology for the new normal

Pointing at green wall

Concern over clean air in buildings is nothing new. But the COVID-19 pandemic has brought these concerns into a sharp new focus.  

People are returning to work and school, not to mention all the other activities they missed during the lockdowns. To better understand people’s concerns and how industry is responding, we spoke to Bob Dowbiggin, Co-Founder and Vice President, Energy Efficiency, of Integrated Energy Solutions (IES Ventures). Bob told us that “they want to know three things: Is the building safe? Is my workstation or my personal area safe? Are the common areas safe?”  

Bob and his partners at IES each have 25 or more years of experience with building design and operations. They chose the name IES to “recognize that we would integrate several solutions in one project, one site or one client,” and because “the dynamic of a building ecosystem is that one thing affects another.” 

Buildings as ecosystems 

IES uses “building ecosystem” to describe a building as an integrated and interdependent, living space. Like an ecosystem in nature, buildings have similar inputs to natural systems —air, water, temperature and so on. The components governing these inputs have a lifecycle, and periodically need to be rejuvenated, refurbished or renewed.  

[A building] is a living, breathing thing,” says Bob, “and when it comes to integration of solutions in that ecosystem, we call it a circle. We are accountable not only for that point in time when we provide the solution, but also to know the cause and effect as it goes all the way around, and as it lives and breathes and facilitates people, equipment and thought processes. And one thing I will say about that ecosystem is that it's much more sensitive than outdoors.” 

The evolution of air quality monitoring & purification 

Air quality in buildings has long been a source of concern, but solutions haven’t always kept pace with innovations. Sensors have long been applied to some filtration and mechanical systems, which allowed for high-level insights into system performance—a building manager could tell if a filter needed to be changed, for example, which enabled some predicative maintenance.  

Over the last five years, better sensors and AI-enabled software have been introduced. Residing in the electronic controls, the software receives data from the sensors and makes decisions about the repetitive or constant tasks involved in managing the in-building systems, such as airflow., This has made more efficient operations possible, with the increasing speed and capacity of data networks opening up even more possibilities.  

Indoor air quality has thus become much more stable, consistent and predictive--allowing traditional means of mechanical filtration to be refined and adjusted automatically for peak performance. All this while also minimizing energy requirements—ultimately helping building owners improve operations efficiency and sustainability.  

How to achieve clean indoor air: bipolar needlepoint ionization 

Over the last two years, however, the focus has shifted from sustainability to health.  

While COVID-19 is clearly influential, other events have reinforced the attention. “The forest fires that affected virtually every urban area across Canada highlighted the need for purification beyond filtration—because the outside air was so bad,” says Bob. “Urban pollution is reality and that's also a great concern to people.”  

In response, “engineers and scientists developed a method to create an atmosphere where regular molecules and atoms get disrupted. That occurs in nature through weather patterns such as thunder and lightning. Naturally occurring ionization takes impurities out of the air, everything from bacteria to viruses to particulates from smoke. The question was: how do we apply that inside a building and do it safely? This can be accomplished through UV lights (often seen in restaurant kitchens), but these can only affect a limited area.  

For larger and more complex buildings, IES has brought in the latest breakthrough in air purification—bipolar needlepoint ionization. Mimicking the natural process of weather patterns, ionized air is carried into and throughout a building so air purification is not limited to the ducting. Needlepoint takes “two points of electrodes that are brushed over, which creates a prolific amount of ions,” says Bob. It is a digitized, modular solution. A single unit can be calibrated to a flow rate of up to 12,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM). Needlepoint is quickly proving to be the best and most cost-effective way to purify air. It meets all certifications, including the stringent UL 2998 standard, which requires that a purification device produce no more ozone than occurs naturally.  

Ensuring a healthy in-building ecosystem 

In a building ecosystem, air quality is as (or more) important than it is outdoors. It makes sense to have an indoor air system that purifies the same way as natural processes. Bipolar needlepoint ionization promises to do just that.  

According to Bob, needlepoint’s only competition is conventional thinking. The Covid-19 pandemic has “forced building owners and managers to deal with air quality in its entirety, as an ecosystem… it has forced us to consider not only air quality but also purification as a baseline.” 

Next steps  

To learn how smart air quality monitoring and purification can make your buildings healthier, contact a Rogers for Business representative 

This post is part of a series on transforming cities and buildings with smart technology. Check out the related posts here.