CHAMPAIGN — Two University of Illinois faculty members have developed a better ozone generator.
No, they're not planning to plug the hole in the ozone layer. Instead, they hope to use the ozone for cleaning laundry, purifying water and preserving food.
J. Gary Eden and Sung-Jin Park have formed EP Purification to commercialize the technology.
The company is one of 10 early-stage finalists in the Clean Energy Trust competition. EP Purification will compete for the $100,000 grand prize April 3 in Chicago before a panel of scientists, venture capitalists and clean-energy business experts.
The company's CEO, Cy Herring, said ozone is a better disinfectant for water than chlorine. Ozone — an unstable gas formed by three oxygen atoms — reacts quicker and has fewer potentially harmful byproducts than chlorine, he said.
Through the years, chlorine has been more popular because it's cheap, he said.
But using microplasma technology, EP Purification has developed ozone generators that are smaller and more efficient than conventional ozone generators.
For one of the first applications of the technology, the company hopes to incorporate the device in laundry treatment systems.
It's working with a local company, TMCS Inc., to have the device installed in institutional laundries, such as those in health care facilities and hotels.
Max Redmond, owner and president of TMCS, said his company provides contract housekeeping and laundry services for health care facilities. For the last eight years, his firm has provided ozone generators for laundries.
Redmond said he has been collaborating with EP Purification for two years and expects to have a product from the company next month.
"I'm very impressed with their background and knowledge of ozone," Redmond said, adding that EP has agreed to produce devices that TMCS will install.
Eden said if ozone technology is adopted on a wide scale, the potential cost savings to the U.S. would be "mind-boggling."
With ozone, water doesn't have to be heated to as high a temperature, laundry time can be shortened, labor and energy can be saved, and the amount of bleach and detergents can be reduced, he said.
Europe is ahead of the U.S. in moving from chlorine to ozone, he added.
Ozone can also be used to treat municipal water supplies and the water in swimming pools, Herring said. Water districts in several large metropolitan areas treat water with ozone, Eden said.
Plus, there are other roles for ozone to fill. It can be used for water purification in countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Eden said.
It can also be used to extend the shelf life of foods, Eden said, citing tests that show treating fruit for 10 minutes a day can extend its shelf life by a week.
Agricultural companies both here and abroad have shown interest in using ozone to treat water that's applied to plants.
One company with a hydroponics facility in Indiana has to pipe water a half-mile to plants and has approached EP Purification about it, Eden said.
EP Purification's ozone generator module itself is roughly the size of an egg — no more than 2 inches long. It's scalable, so several devices can be used together to handle bigger jobs.
Made largely of thick aluminum foil, the ozone generator takes in air. The oxygen moves through microchannels, and when an electrical discharge is applied, the microplasma reactor generates ozone.
Eden and Park — a professor and adjunct associate professor, respectively, in the UI's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering — have been doing work with ozone since late 2005.
EP Purification hopes to expand sales to 500 units by the end of this year and eventually have a core production facility in Champaign-Urbana.
Business: Uses microplasma technology to create devices for purifying water and air. One of its devices converts oxygen to ozone, enabling purification of water for commercial laundries, municipal water supplies and swimming pools. Ozone can also be used in food preservation.
Address: EnterpriseWorks, 60 Hazelwood Drive, C.
Co-founders: J. Gary Eden, a University of Illinois professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Sung-Jin Park, an adjunct associate professor in the same department.
CEO: Cyrus M. Herring