Volga | Technology & innovation

Innovative thermo-respirator can protect against coronavirus

26 May '20
Interview with Michael Pochepsky, a resident of the Lobachevsky University Project Office

When did you start developing the photocatalytic thermo-respirator project? Where did the idea come from?


A few years ago, a wave of popularity went on winter forest trips. My friend and I decided to keep up with the topic, and after scrupulous preparations we went overnight to the winter forest, without tents, only a minimum of equipment and our skills. Arrived at the place early in the morning, it was about -15. The whole day was calculated in minutes: how much time is needed to arrange a parking lot, what time should there be a bonfire and food, when rest, etc. Those who like to go on such trips know that in a severe cold, the forces melt right before our eyes.

Due to my professional habit, I’m used to not only follow the world around me, but also immediately try to explain the essence of these phenomena, especially those that relate to the body. Thus, during the day I carefully monitored and analyzed the reactions by which the body responded to a high load.

The fact is that it is the temperature of the inhaled air that is one of the first links in the whole cascade of physiological reactions by which the body responds to cold. If greatly simplified, then our body has two main modes. We will conditionally call them comfortable and heat-producing. In a comfortable mode, the body spends a minimum of energy to maintain normal temperature, and in the heat-producing mode, the metabolism switches to the production of additional heat through significant energy expenditures.

So even if you are warmly dressed, the body is still in a heat-producing mode, because it starts primarily from the low temperature of the inhaled air. The task is to cancel this switch - to give the body a sufficient amount of heat from the outside, thereby allowing it to work in a comfortable mode, corresponding to physiological (conditionally, room) environmental conditions. The conservation of heat is actually only the second term, the first is the physical parameters of the inhaled air. And these are, at least, equivalent, and maybe even more important parameters than thermal insulation.

A clear evidence of the importance of air temperature for the body is its concomitant decrease and increasing stress on the respiratory system exacerbation of respiratory diseases. And the severity of their transfer and possible consequences, even death, is a consequence of the proximity and direct connection of the lungs and heart through the pulmonary circulation.

In addition, the effect of the runner works: it is known that after running due to excessive load on all systems, the body feels tired. The same thing happens in winter: excessive pressure on the respiratory system leads to general fatigue, regardless of how warm you are dressed. Thus, to solve the problem of cold breathing, it is necessary that cold air does not enter the cold receptors of the respiratory system, otherwise an expensive heat-producing mode will turn on.

That is, the energy that the body spends on heating the inhaled air is colossal. In this regard, it became clear that if you really solve the problem of cold breathing, you can almost completely close the issue of the influence of low temperatures - it will be possible to be on the street at any low temperature for an unlimited amount of time, as if you are walking on a summer day. So the idea of ​​a thermo-respirator arose.

Tell us what are the features and main advantages of a thermo respirator?

The idea itself is not new, but it was surprising that in the 21st century there are no products that truly solve this issue. Everything was limited to cloth products, the development of the RPD stopped at the level of wrapping a scarf which, of course, is not serious.

The task was to achieve a stable physiological temperature or close to it. Calculations were made and a thermo-respirator made from an autonomous power supply was made, which allows maintaining a constant temperature of +25 degrees in the range of up to 100 degrees. Imagine walking in Oimyakon along the street at –60, and you have +25. The same applies to polar expeditions, climbers, ambulance brigades, and the army.

Such a device should be part of any search and rescue team: to provide a person with the opportunity to breathe warm air is almost equivalent to transferring him to a warm room. For convenience, I call this the suit of the suit. It was originally planned to simply release a thermo-respirator, although thoughts already circled in my head that it would be nice if the respirator also had a bactericidal effect, however, such complications seemed untimely and were postponed until better times.

At the end of last year, as you recall, messages began to appear from China about a new virus. Even at the very beginning of the epidemic, the very idea that it would reach us seemed to our majority of our citizens something fantastic and unrealistic. However, following the situation and the accompanying lack of personal protective equipment, I decided to start work on the bactericidal function.

It so happened that in parallel with this, at the Department of Medical Chemistry, I carried out work related to photocatalysis - a change in the rate of a chemical reaction under the influence of catalyst substances activated by irradiation with waves of the predominantly visible spectrum. This is comparable to a car catalyst, which decomposes the residual combustion products - exhaust gases to carbon dioxide and water.

And then a second successful solution arose, which was subsequently implemented. The heating unit was equipped with a photocatalytic component, and in addition, the design itself was designed so that the heating element itself is both a mechanical and, in a sense, electrostatic filter. Thus, a photocatalytic thermo-respirator arose.

Of course, a lot of work remains to be done, but now the following has turned out:

• The respirator has one of the lowest weight indicators, with the effectiveness of the bactericidal action tending to the highest indicators: 4 factors work - temperature, mechanical filtration, electrostatic filtration and photocatalysis.

• The device also boasts compactness and ergonomics - perhaps today it is the most compact of complex respiratory systems. Everything fits in a small round cartridge in front of a face with a radius of just over two centimeters. There is still a lot of work, but there are real prerequisites for the device to set new standards in personal protective equipment - gas masks and respirators.

• Technology and components are quite cheap, which means that such a device will be available to a wide consumer. Already preliminary calculations show that the device, taking into account multifunctionality and durability, will cost much cheaper in the long term than the constant purchase of disposable masks or replacing filters with existing RPDs.

What are your plans for the development of the project?

At present, it remains to conduct the final testing, finish the paper work, and, God willing, in the very near future (before the next winter season) begin production. In the future, it is planned to implement many planned technical solutions, due to which a whole series of products will be obtained: for tourism, for people with respiratory tract diseases with released drugs, reinforced respirators for conditions with increased air pollution, and even plans include a cryo-respirator for working in high temperatures. It is important to understand that a respirator in its current form is just the basis for continuous improvement. Perhaps someday, we will get to those futuristic masks that recognize the characters of famous films.
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