John O’Connell/Capital Press
POCATELLO, Idaho — An Idaho State University researcher has obtained a grant to evaluate a filter-less machine that removes airborne pathogens from potato storage while humidifying the air.
Blake Isaacs, CEO of Blackfoot-based Isaacs Hydropermutation Technologies, said his father, Garry, invented the concept of humigation in 1985, and the company’s engineering staff has worked during the past three years to make the machines more compact, affordable and effective.
ISU microbiology professor Peter Sheridan will start testing humigators beginning June 5, releasing yeast cells into a sealed room and then growing them out on cultures to compare populations before and after treatments. They’ll also evaluate the efficacy of humigators in conjunction with an ultraviolet light, which now comes on the machines to kill additional pathogens.
Another grant will aid Boise State University researchers who plan to collaborate on the experiment to assess the sensitivity of paper-thin sensors they’ve developed to detect the metabolic signatures of pathogens in potato storages.
BSU, working with Emerson Electronics, hopes its network of sensors will precisely identify locations of pathogen “hot spots” in storage.
The Idaho Department of Commerce’s Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission grant — which awards funds to state universities working with industry partners to further technologies — recently approved about $414,000 for the ISU and BSU projects, with about $190,000 going toward the humigation research.
Humigation relies on the Venturi effect. Air is run through a chamber with constrictions of varying sizes, creating low-pressure zones. In the absence of pressure, water introduced into the chamber atomizes into tiny droplets, which absorb airborne particles that are captured in the dirty water tank.
The company’s testing has confirmed the machines are effective at ridding the air of mold spores, protecting potato storages from diseases such as black dot and silver scurf.
“The testimonials are very consistent,” Isaacs said. “Everyone who has used it for that purpose has continued to use it or expanded their (use).”
But he said Sheridan’s study should provide third-party data to satisfy potential customers and shareholders. Furthermore, Sheridan plans to study how well the machines remove smaller particles, down to bacterial and viral sizes. Sheridan said humigators have reportedly removed ammonia odor from potato storages — evidence that they’re capturing volatile organic compounds from the air that are even smaller than viruses.
“We’re going to see how much of a protective barrier is this going to be to airborne threats,” Sheridan said. “Let’s get some hard numbers.”
Isaacs hopes the research will help his company refine its humigators for future use in other crops, as well as hospital, school, industrial and even residential applications.