Research: MoPlasDekon – Plasma for disaster relief

MoPlasDekon research project: Presentation of the newly developed plasma disinfector in the Plasmatreat Technology Centre. From left to right: Sebastian Guist, Daniel Haße, Prof. Dr. Thomas Schmitt-John, Christian Buske, Dr. Alexander Knospe, Erhard Krampe (all Plasmatreat) and Thomas Stadler (BRK), Uwe Kippnich (BRK), Bernd Kramer (Fraunhofer IVV), Dr.-Ing. Peter Muranyi (Fraunhofer IVV) and Dr.-Ing. Frank Sicking (Technology Centre, BMBF project sponsor)
(Photo Plasmatreat)

Steinhagen/Westphalia. The three-year MoPlasDekon (Mobile Plasma Decontamination) project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of its "Research for Civil Security" program comes to an end in August 2019. At the end of July, project partners Plasmatreat GmbH from Steinhagen and the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) in Freising joined forces with associated partner the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK) to present to guests and journalists the mobile plasma disinfector developed in this research project for use in biological emergencies.

Chemical shower for infection control: The MoPlasDekon process aims in future to replace the harmful and polluting chemicals currently used (photo: Rafael Ben-Ari_Fotolia.com)

Plasma replaces chemicals

The aim of the project was to provide an environmentally friendly, easier to use and faster-acting method of disinfecting contaminated surfaces than conventional wet chemical decontamination. When rescue teams in infected areas remove their protective suits after use, they are at great risk of exposure to pathogens adhering to these suits. Bacteria, fungi and viruses must also be removed from the interiors of contaminated ambulances. Up until now, these items have been decontaminated mainly by spraying or rubbing with harmful and highly polluting wet chemicals.

The newly developed nozzle can reduce the bacterial load by a factor of one million, which meets the requirements for sterilization (photo: Plasmatreat)

In contrast, the MoPlasDekon technology is a dry and extremely rapid process that eliminates dangerous pathogens on material surfaces without posing a threat to human health or the environment. "The plasma disinfector system developed by Plasmatreat comprises a sterilization nozzle which uses a dielectric barrier discharge (DBD) to generate the plasma", explains Dr. Alexander Knospe, Director of Innovation Management at Plasmatreat and joint coordinator of MoPlasDekon. The new developed nozzle can reduce the bacterial load by a factor of one million, which meets the requirements for sterilization. The polymer protective suits worn by emergency personnel can be disinfected with the reactive plasma gas just as effectively as the interior of the entire ambulance. With the aid of special gas sensors developed by the third project partner m-u-t GmbH from Wedel, it is also possible to accurately measure the effectiveness of the plasma treatment against pathogens in situ.

As a market-ready product, the MoPlasDekon system will weigh just 25 kg – making it light enough for one person to carry –, be easy to operate and suitable for mobile deployment. A built-in lithium-ion battery ensures that power is available at all times. In future this system should make it possible to decontaminate contaminated objects anywhere in the world without using aggressive chemicals.

Plasmatreat CEO Christian Buske (far left) thanks Thomas Stadler, head of emergency services at the BRK, for supplying the ambulance used for testing the MoPlasDekon system (photo: Plasmatreat)

Support from experts in the field

The MoPlasDekon partners received expert advice from four associated project partners working in the field: The Analytical Task Force (ATF B) of the Essen Fire Service that specializes in biological threats, the rescue and disaster management specialists at the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK), who sent an ambulance from Bavaria to Steinhagen in Westphalia for research purposes, and specialist tent and equipment supplier Thorsten Schöppner Inhag Zelte und Zubehör. The fourth practical advisor was the German government's center for the monitoring and prevention of diseases, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin, which itself operates a task force for biological threats.

The next step

The next step is to advance the demonstration model to the production stage. The doors are open to investors interested in the marketable product, which they will find has promising potential: The first mobile battery-powered high-tech plasma system, monitored by gas sensors, which is capable of eliminating harmful pathogens on objects at disasters anywhere in the world in an environmentally friendly way – rapidly, safely and entirely without chemicals.

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