Is Aurabeat's lab-tested air purifier enough protection in the real world?

A handout photo. Aurabeat Technology’s air purifier.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Aurabeat Technology, a Hong Kong Science and Technology Park start-up, has joined the crowded air purifying device market with what it claims to be the only product independently tested for its capability to eliminate the coronavirus causing Covid-19.

The Pak Shek Kok-based company expects to close a US$2 million (S$3 million) round of “seed” capital-raising soon, which would help bolster its war chest to develop international sales, chief executive Phil Yuen said in an interview with South China Morning Post.

“As far as we know, ours is the only one that passed a third-party test in a virology laboratory against the Covid-19 virus,” Yuen said. “Our product can eliminate 99.9 per cent of the virus, and the US Food and Drug Administration has cleared for it to be marketed as a medical-grade device during the ongoing public health emergency.”

Filter media treated by Aurabeat’s technology has reduced the virus that causes Covid-19 by 99.95 per cent within 30 minutes, Kansas City, US-based MRI Global said in a lab report early this month.

Its patented formula combines silver ion, plasma and ultraviolet light to capture and eliminate the virus by destroying its genetic material, Yuen said.

A handout photo. Phil Yuen, CEO of Hong Kong Sciences and Technology Park-based Aurabeat Technology. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

Silver ion is used in some air purifiers to remove bacteria and viruses, while UV-C light is a proven technology for disinfecting air, water and instruments for over a century.

Aurabeat has sold over 10,000 purifiers in Hong Kong since its launch in early March, and an even greater number of units produced by a manufacturing partner in mainland China may exported “soon,” Yuen said.

“We have won an open tender to install our purifiers in key government buildings … we have placed some in public hospitals, blood transfusion centres, hospital gowns laundry facilities and school classrooms,” he added.

A stand-alone unit retails for HK$4,980 (S$875), while a portable model more suitable for personal space, such as a car’s interior, is priced at HK$1,280.

The company was co-founded in 2017 by building services engineer Steven Chan Nai-kin and Roger Szeto, a former Hong Kong University of Science and Technology research assistant professor and air quality and green building design consultant.

The global air purifiers market is expected to grow 20.7 per cent this year to US$1.55 billion from last year, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com. The surge in demand has already turned Li Xiting, the co-founder and chairman of Shenzhen Mindray Bio-Medical Electronics, a major producer of the machines, into the wealthiest man in Singapore, where he resides.

“The growth is mainly due to the Covid-19 outbreak that has led to increased demand for high efficiency particulate air filters (Hepa) by consumers for personal use,” the research firm said in June. “The market is then expected to grow at a compound average annual rate of 6.1 per cent to reach US$1.86 billion in 2023.”

Asia-Pacific was the world’s largest air purifiers market last year amid rising concern for airborne diseases caused by air pollution, where active participants include Honeywell, Whirlpool, Daikin, Dyson, Panasonic and Xiaomi, the research firm said.

Hepa is a designation used to describe filters that are able to trap 99.97 per cent of particles that are 0.3 micron in size. One micron is one-thousandth of a millimetre. Hepa air purifiers should not be relied upon as the primary protection against Covid-19, since some respiratory droplets land on surfaces and can live for hours or days, according to advice by medical experts and epidemiologists.

“Hepa filters are very efficient at catching coronavirus-size particles, but the particles must first physically travel to the filter,” James Dickerson, chief science officer of US non-profit group Consumer Reports (CR) said in May. That means an air purifier has to be capable of consistently drawing in enough air to reduce the amount of virus particles in the air.

CR recommended purifiers with a clean air delivery rate (CADR) of over 240 cubic feet per minute (cfm), which gives roughly five air exchanges per hour. Aurabeat’s stand-alone product has a CADR of 221 cfm, according to the company.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.