Warding off airborne germs

A UK hospital is to test ultraviolet air-cleansing technology following a deal between the NHS and the Surrey company that developed the system and is now attempting to commercialise it.

Energy Technique said the unnamed hospital would fit two filtration units equipped with the technology, called UVGI, in its A& E department.

UVGI uses a combination of advanced filtration and UV light to eradicate hard-to-kill airborne microbes such as the MRSA ‘superbug’ – currently the cause of much concern in the NHS.

The same hospital is expected to begin trials of two further units – branded Nightingale for sale into the healthcare system – in its isolation ward next autumn.

The pilot installation is an important step toward establishing the technology in the NHS, a task that Energy Technique admitted was ‘proving far more difficult and protracted than anticipated’.

The company spent 2003 developing Nightingale, adding more powerful UV lamps and functions such as remote monitoring via GSM wireless link. It hopes the system will soon be able to create a sanitised micro-climate around individual hospital beds, providing a bug-free environment for particular patients without the need to equip the whole ward with the system.

Commercialisation of UVGI began in 2002 following successful tests of the system at the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down. Energy Technique is the majority partner in a joint venture called UVGI Systems, set up to develop and market the technology.

Other potential applications for UVGI include installation on trains, aircraft and boats.

The system is highly efficient at killing anthrax, according to its developers, and could be used to limit the effects of bio-terrorism attacks.

A positive outcome from the NHS pilot would be a major boost to Energy Technique, which has had its cash reserves sapped by the costs of developing the system.

The company’s situation was not helped by a sharp downturn in its wider environmental control markets which suffered the knock-on effects of a slump in construction projects during the Iraq conflict.

However, the potential of UVGI has convinced Energy Technique to launch an air treatment division. This will develop systems and look for new opportunities to apply ultraviolet technology within the commercial air treatment market.

The company said it will look to raise extra capital to allow it to fully develop the products in the air treatment division.

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