UNLV Lee Business School Prize Awards $250,000 To Virus-Capturing HVAC System
Two UNLV students and a UC Berkley graduate have created a new way to purify indoor air, which is increasingly important during the coronavirus pandemic.
Their efforts have paid off. They’ve won $250,000 in a contest sponsored by UNLV’s Lee Business School. The business school set up the prize earlier this year to help spur solutions to problems in the hospitality, entertainment, or travel industries resulting from COVID-19.
Xavier Morgan-Lange created the purification system with two friends. He is now the CEO and co-founder Promethium, the company that will be bringing the new technology to market. He’s also a senior mechanical engineering student at UNLV.
Morgan-Lange called the new technology in the filtration system a "paradigm shift" in HVAC systems. Currently, small particles can be caught in filter systems but since viruses, including the coronavirus, stick on surfaces, when someone changes the filter or services the unit they can be exposed to those virus particles.
“Our approach and our philosophy is: We want the virus to be gone. We want to take it out of the equation altogether, rather than give it safe harbor somewhere else,” Morgan-Lange said.
The technology in the purification system is called photocatalysis. It essentially uses a semi-conductor to create radicals that destroy viruses, which means people can't be exposed to them when they service the system.
Photocatalysis has been around for decades but it has only been refined enough to become something marketable in the last few years, Morgan-Lange said.
Morgan-Lange created the company with two friends after reading a little bit about the technology. They started it in 2018 long before COVID-19 became a problem.
“Not something we would have wished at all, and it’s not something to be taken lightly, but we have managed to use this opportunity to actually employ our technology in a helpful way,” he said.
The technology can be used in a variety of ways from water purification to energy generation. Morgan-Lange and his team focused on air filtration first because it seemed like the easiest way to get photocatalysis to market.
Now, the technology is even more important.
“We are offering a level of air purification and sanitation that has not been accessible to hotels and large businesses before," said Daniel Werth, COO of Promethium.
Werth said it is often difficult to purify air on a large scale, which is what is needed in a hotel with thousands of rooms and a casino floor that is thousands of square feet.
“We could see the introduction of this technology as potentially making casinos not just viable for tourism again, but as a matter of fact, attracting people just for that reason alone,” he said.
Promethium has just signed a research agreement with Purdue University. They hope to put the technology through its paces over the winter and have it ready for market in spring 2021
Each unit will be specialized for each client, but the basic standard unit starts at around $10,000 and it can clean 40,000 square feet of space. The casino floor at the Bellagio is 100,000 square feet.
The prize money from the business school will help the company with the final push to market, Morgan-Lange said.
“I definitely didn’t see this coming. I thought this was going to be somewhere on the order of three to four years of a typical startup process, but needless to say, because of the urgency and the need for our product we’ve had to accelerate that quite dramatically,” he said.
Xavier Morgan-Lange, CEO/Co-Founder of Promethium, UNLV Mechanical Engineering Senior; Daniel Werth, COO of Promethium, and UC Berkeley Graduate