An air scrubber used in space station plant growth helps you breathe easier at home.

In the 1990s, NASA scientists were thinking of what astronauts would need to survive long-term missions to the Moon and other planets. One important requirement was a dependable source of food, which could be accomplished by astronauts growing their own produce in space-age greenhouses. But cultivating crops in a sealed-off environment results in the buildup of an undesirable gas called ethylene. Plants release the odorless, colorless fume into the air, which has the unfortunate effect of accelerating decay, hastening the wilting of flowers and the ripening of fruits and vegetables.

Mizuna lettuce growing aboard the Intern ational Space Station. Ethylene scrubbers are used to remove the gas from the air, keeping vegetables fresh in space.

To address the problem, Marshall Space Flight Center’s Space Product Development Program funded the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics at the University of Wisconsin to develop plant growth chambers that included an ethylene reduction device. In this “scrubber,” air is drawn into tubes coated with thin layers of titanium dioxide (TiO2). When an ultraviolet (UV) light source located in the tubes strikes the TiO2, the ethylene gets converted to water and carbon dioxide, both of which are beneficial for plants.

The ethylene scrubber was first used in 1995 aboard a Space Shuttle Columbia mission, successfully preserving a crop of potato seedlings. Updated versions of the device were subsequently flown on several missions to the International Space Station.

While NASA’s main objective was to get rid of ethylene, the scrubbers were capable of purging all kinds of unwanted organic particles from the air. Recognizing its powerful air purification abilities, KES Science & Technology (Kennesaw, GA) licensed the technology from the University of Wisconsin. The company then partnered with Akida Holdings (Jacksonville, FL), which marketed the technology as Airocide.

The Airocide home unit can be placed on a flat surface, hung on a wall, or mounted to a floor stand.
In 2013, Airocide finally found its way into people’s homes when Akida Holdings adapted the technology for home use by developing an eye-catching portable unit with enough power to purge an entire room of pathogens. The Airocide unit is the only air purifier that completely destroys airborne bacteria, mold, fungi, mycotoxins, viruses, volatile organic compounds, and odors. Grocery stores and produce distribution facilities now use it, in addition to a host of wineries, distilleries, and floral businesses. The device has also found its way into refrigerators used for both homes and for distributing food aid to remote towns. In hospitals and clinics, Airocide’s germ-killing properties are used to purge the air of harmful bacteria.

The home Airocide unit has a sleek, glossy, rectangular body and can either be mounted on a floor stand or hung on a wall. Airocide works differently from High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which are designed to capture particles that are 0.3 microns across and larger. Airocide is simple to operate — just plug it into an outlet, turn it on, and forget about it. The only upkeep required is replacing the reaction chamber, which houses the UV light source, every 12-14 months. There are high- and low-intensity modes, as well as automatic, which alternates from high in the day to low at night.

According to users, the product helps relieve symptoms associated with asthma, allergies, and sinus problems.

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