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Air Filter Made of Corn Protein Promises Effective, Environmentally-Friendly Filtration

New air filter performs similarly to HEPA filters while outperforming toxic chemical filters

Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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Researchers from Washington State University have engineered a new air filter made from corn protein that can capture small particulates as well as toxic chemicals that comparable filters cannot capture. The corn protein-based filter is also more environmentally friendly.

The new filter, detailed in Separation and Purification Technology, is made out of corn protein rather than petroleum products like comparable filters. Besides being plentiful, corn protein is also biodegradable, making it an environmentally-friendly alternative to the petroleum and glass products that most other filters are made of. Corn protein is hydrophobic as well, which may make the filters especially useful in certain products like facemasks.

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According to the press release, the corn filter was able to “simultaneously capture 99.5 percent of small particulate matter, similar to commercial high efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters, and 87 percent of formaldehyde, which is higher than specially designed air filters for those types of toxins.”

These filters rely on the functional groups of the amino acids in the corn protein. These groups essentially “grab” toxins as they pass through the filter. The researchers believe that they may be able to arrange the corn proteins in such a way that a “tentacle-like” set of functional groups could grab multiple types of pollutants from the air concurrently.

Manufacturing the filters is quite simple: the team uses polyvinyl alcohol to glue the corn protein nanofibers together into three-dimensional configurations, forming a lightweight material similar to foam. The research team believes that this will make manufacturing these filters at larger scales relatively simple.

The researchers intend to perform further testing, such as using a variety of functional group structures as well as testing how effectively other toxic chemicals are filtered.