ResearchUNC Charlotte

Charlotte Professor Jefferson Ellinger Bringing Fresh Outdoor Air—Inside

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic and a wave of catastrophic forest fires have taught us, it’s that the air you breathe can make you sick. And in a country where the average person spends 90% of their time indoors, good indoor air is especially important.

More than a decade ago, well before coronavirus became a household word, Associate Professor of Architecture Jefferson Ellinger began using his design expertise to improve air quality.

Certainly, good air is necessary for good health: Dozens of studies demonstrate that the high levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds typically found inside buildings — not to mention molds, bacteria and viruses — impair cognition and raise the risk for a host of diseases. But good air is not necessarily “clean,” and the sophisticated air purifying systems that are becoming increasingly popular, Ellinger said, “remove everything from the air, making it sterile, so then the building surfaces and airstream become populated with human pathogens that are brought in by the building occupants.”

Ideally, the air in an office building would be as healthful as fresh, unpolluted air outside. Working with a team of former colleagues from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Ellinger began to investigate ways to bring the benefits of fresh outdoor air to an enclosed space. Establishing the company Fresh Air Building Systems, they developed AMPS, or Active Modular Phytoremediation System, a plant wall that can be integrated into a building’s HVAC system.

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