Professor uses x-ray technology to combat air pollution

Physics professor Guang Jia is using a new approach to combat an age-old issue: industrial air pollution.

With funding provided by the LSU LIFT2 Grant Program, a University initiative created to fund projects in various colleges and academic disciplines, Jia and his colleagues are designing a new industrial air purifier that uses X-ray technology.

Jia said the idea to apply his expertise in medical physics to design an air purification system occurred to him after he visited his native country, China, in December 2011.

In Beijing, one of China’s largest cities, the air pollution is so thick, inhabitants can only view the sunrise through a real-time television broadcast, Jia said.

“You might think this is horrible, but it turns out the Beijing situation is the best in China,” Jia said. “If you take the train to my hometown, which is eight hours by train, the air pollution gets worse and worse.”

Jia said a large device called an electrostatic precipitator, or ESP, is the current standard for industrial air purification. The device utilizes electrostatic poles to generate electrons, which attach to pollutant particles and keep them out of the air when attracted to a collecting plate.

The design Jia and colleagues have in mind would be smaller and attach to a chimney for easy installation.

Jia said the device would operate similarly to an ESP, but an X-ray tube would be used to ionize the pollutant particles directly, charging them either positively or negatively. The particles would then be attracted to a series of positively and negatively charged collecting plates.

By using X-ray technology, Jia said the charged particles will have a greater possible travel distance, and the X-ray tube can be designed to fit the specifications of any chimney to ensure pollutants are filtered thoroughly and efficiently. The device can also be engineered to filter based on the chemical composition of the pollutant particles a chimney expels.

The LSU LIFT2 Grant Program provides funding for one year to support projects prior to commercialization. In July, Jia and colleagues received a $22,145 award.

“This LIFT2 grant is basically providing the money to do some testing of the idea to give us enough data to be able to pursue funding to actually develop the idea for real,” said physics professor Kenneth Matthews, one of Jia’s colleagues.

Once the first year of funding ends in July 2015, Jia said the team will apply for a $500,000 grant through the National Science Foundation, which will provide funding for the project over five years.

Matthews, physics professor Wei-Hsung Wang and physics and astronomy post-doctoral student Wenhua Xu are working with Jia.

“I moved to Louisiana State last July, so I found here there was a really nice team for X-ray and medical physics,” Jia said.

While each of the professors on the project come from a radiation science background, each has an individual role in the project. Jia approaches the project from an analytical angle while Matthews handles the project’s instrumental aspects, and Wang is in charge of radiation safety.

Matthews said professors gather equipment and formulate the design for a project like this, but students are employed to do the testing and data collection. The team is now looking for an environmental science, engineering or physics student to assist Xu with practical testing.

“A lot of the background materials and facilities are here and in place,” Matthews said. “We have the labs to work in that are dedicated, outfitted for this sort of project.”