Ethera measures interior air chemical pollutants thanks to nanoporous collectors
par Elsa Sidawy | 03.15.11
Formaldehyde, benzene, nitrogen dioxide, phthalates… What all these substances, which are potentially harmful to health, have in common is they can be found in our homes, at sometimes alarming levels. The firm Ethera is developing tools to detect these pollutants almost in real time, with an innovative technology that makes laboratories’ long and expensive samplings and analyses obsolete.
Gas sponges trapping pollutants
The nanoporous pollutant collectors developed by Ethera were created through a five-patent technology, invented by the Francis Perrin laboratory, in collaboration with the CEA (Atomic Energy Commission) and the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research). These “materials, which are sorts of gas sponges, trap, concentrate and filter chemical pollutants,” Sylvain Colomb, one of the three founders of Ethera, explains. Each pore of that sponge absorbs specific molecules that selectively react to a gas by colouring the material. The rapidity with which the colour changes is proportional to the gas concentration that is measured in the atmosphere. About ten minutes are enough to give a hint of the level of pollution even though an optical scanner is required to know the exact amount.
The firm, established in March 2010, says it is now ready to commercialise, by mid-2011, a first product able to detect formaldehyde, a colourless and inflammable gas, listed as carcinogenic. Massively used in the textile, plastic, paint and varnish industries, this undesirable can cause neuronal and breathing difficulties.
Ethera’s offer is therefore targeting professionals, especially in the fields of hygiene and safety at work and quality of interior air in buildings. But what really enabled Ethera to take off last year was the launching, by the Department for Environment, of an experimentation aiming at going over 310 premises where children spend time with a fine-tooth comb between 2009 and 2011. The two main pollutants that were sought were benzene and formaldehyde: “we managed to be part of the second phase of that campaign so we could compare our analysis with the reference sampling method.”
Ethera’s badges enable to obtain almost real-time measures while the experimentation protocol decided on by the Department is based on long exposures, that is to say a few days. This process is not disowned by Ethera: “we wish to measure the ambient air pollution that people are exposed to at low doses over a long period of time, for this is the type of exposure that causes chronic diseases.”
Ethera’s collectors therefore have a significant commercial potential: hospitals, schools, firms, public places… For the moment, the experimentation phase continues: the Paris City Council, which rewarded the firm last December during the Innovation Grand Prizes in the Health/Biotech category, will soon experiment its solutions through the Paris Region Innovation Laboratory. Eventually, anyone should be able to use these kits and measure the air pollution at home, the way you can measure the pH of your swimming pool. Meanwhile, the best way to get rid of formaldehyde is to open your windows…
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Translated by Oona Bijasson