Disinfectant tunnel for COVID-19: Head of the project from IIT Kanpur explains how it works
IIT Kanpur’s Technopark and Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) have collectively developed a techno advanced disinfectant tunnel.
COVID-19 began to spread late last year and the pandemic has been ongoing for several months now. We've all heard of the phrase ‘necessity is the mother of inventions’ - and one of the biggest necessities right now is to be able to maintain effective sanitisation. For this purpose, IIT Kanpur’s Technopark and Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) have collectively developed a techno advanced disinfectant tunnel.
Dr Sonia Bhatt of myUpchar spoke to Dr Avinash Kumar Agarwal, who led the project, about the specifics of this development.
How does the disinfectant tunnel work?
Dr Avinash Kumar Agarwal: The tunnel has been designed by my team of IIT Kanpur students under the technopark initiative. The tunnel does not have human control and is being operated with the help of ultrasonic sensors and microcontrollers. It has two chambers with three different levels of disinfection.
When a person enters the first chamber of the tunnel, a spray of ionized liquid disinfectant is sprayed over the person. This ionized liquid spray is more effective than the regular ones as the liquid will have a charge and will firmly distribute on the skin of the person. Moreover, it has the ability to neutralize the virus from the surface more effectively as compared to the normal sprays.
In the second chamber, the person firstly experiences a hot air blast of 70-degree centigrade. This is to make sure that any bacteria that survived the disinfectant would be killed through the heat. Then the second process in the second chamber is the exposure of far UVC light with a wavelength ranging from 207 to 222 nm. This light has the capability to kill the virus and is safe for human eyes and skin.
How is this tunnel different from the disinfecting chambers created in the past?
Dr Agarwal: So far, the disinfectant tunnels that have been designed in the past only have a single disinfection chamber, where they spray a disinfectant which covers the person in a thin layer of disinfectant mist. In this tunnel, the person goes through three levels of disinfection which makes it more efficient at killing viruses and bacteria.
Which disinfectant is being used in the tunnel?
Dr Agarwal: Any disinfectant that has been approved by ICMR can be used in this tunnel. We started with sodium hypochlorite in a diluted form. However, some people may have some skin issues like burning or allergies from being exposed to it, so ALIMCO has come up with a herbal disinfectant. They have made this herbal disinfectant with neem leaves extract, camphor and alum.
There have been known side effects of UV rays on the skin and eyes. Can the UV radiation present in the tunnel harm people?
Dr Agarwal: UV rays can be harmful to human skin and eyes if the wavelength of the rays is at or above 255nm. We are using a far UVC light in this tunnel which has been researched in various labs and is known to be harmless to human skin and eyes. Moreover, we can also switch the UV lights off while the other two processes, disinfectant and heat, would keep on doing their work.
How much time would the machine take to disinfect a person?
Dr Agarwal: A person spends less than a minute in the tunnel as the chambers take 20 to 25 seconds each. By this calculation, we assume that 2 people would be able to get disinfected within a minute which comes up to 120 people per hour.
How long have you been working on this project and how difficult was it to complete this project during the national lockdown?
Dr Agarwal: The team started working on this project as soon as the lockdown started. Since the lockdown, no student has been working in the IIT Kanpur lab, so the entire work has been done remotely. The teams were divided, different aspects were discussed over virtual meetings. Though the procurement of sensors and all the other instruments has been a challenge during the lockdown, ALIMCO worked efficiently and prepared the skeleton of the tunnel in their factory. Then the instrumentation and structure were put together in IIT Kanpur. In the period of 40 days, around 30 to 40 people have worked together to form this tunnel.
Where will the tunnel be used?
Dr Agarwal: This tunnel had been designed to be used in areas where there is a high flow of people like the airports, bus stations and even schools.
What would be the expected cost for the installation and maintenance of the tunnel?
Dr Agarwal: We have not decided the final cost yet but I assume that it would be under 2 lakhs.
How far is the tunnel from being available in the market?
Dr Agarwal: We have prepared the alpha-model and are testing it for its virus killing efficiency. Once we are done with the testing, we will release its design to ALIMCO for mass production and distribution across the country.
We are also planning on adding a thermal imaging camera to this tunnel in the coming week. This camera would report the temperature of the person even before they enter the tunnel.
ALIMCO needs to get the tunnel approved by ICMR and other authorities. Once the design is approved, the tunnel would be in the market within three weeks.
For more information, read our article on Best disinfectants and cleaners to kill coronaviruses.
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