400 UK, Ireland buses COVID-free thanks to Israeli technology

Air purification system could also be used to revive tourism industry, in Israel and beyond

The Aura Air system, shown here installed on a bus, was found to be more than 99.9% effective in disinfecting indoor air and catching particles that can cause sickness.  (photo credit: AURA AIR)
The Aura Air system, shown here installed on a bus, was found to be more than 99.9% effective in disinfecting indoor air and catching particles that can cause sickness.
(photo credit: AURA AIR)
The Tel Aviv-headquartered Aura Air startup has finished outfitting 400 tourist buses, newly repurposed to carry frontline workers in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with its unique data-driven air purification system.
The technology uses three methods to kill coronavirus and informs passengers on the state of seven air quality indexes in their vehicle.
Originally tested at Sheba Medical Center, where it is still in use today, the system was found to be more than 99.9% effective in disinfecting indoor air from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and molds and catching particles that can cause sickness.
In Israel, the company also works mainly with tour bus companies, which could help revive a local industry devastated by the pandemic.
The air purification system obliterates coronavirus using two patented methods: a Sterionizer and a copper laced high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. In addition, it cleans the air using ultraviolet C (UVC) light.
The Sterionizer is an updated ionizer, as the older models can cause serious health problems such as lung damage. An ionizer works by distributing positive and negative ions into the air, which starts a process that destroys the sickness-causing protein constructions of viruses, such as the coronavirus and influenza.
Copper HEPA filters distinguish themselves by trapping and killing the virus, whereas the normal HEPA filters only capture the virus. Copper is well known for eliminating bacteria and viruses by weakening their protein structure in addition to inhibiting their ability to reproduce.
UVC light purifies, among other things, air and water.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration: “UVC radiation has been shown to destroy the outer protein coating of the SARS-Coronavirus, which is a different virus from the current SARS-CoV-2 virus. … UVC radiation may also be effective in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the virus that causes the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
Technology is used not only for shielding against coronavirus but for passengers to monitor the air around them.
Passengers can view air quality indexes for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (such as perfumes), humidity, temperature and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10). According to Paul Kasler, CEO of Aura Air UK Ltd, the UK distributor of Aura Air, the latter two measures are the most important for COVID-19 monitoring.
“These are the particles that are emitted when you breathe, cough, sneeze, talk, which are known to carry the virus and float in the air for 15 to 30 minutes,” he told The Media Line, explaining that PM2.5 particles are between 1.5 microns and 2.5 microns in size, and PM10 particles are 2.5 to 10 microns in size.
A micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter.
All of the air monitoring can be done through an app.
“We give operators a sticker to put on the coach and on the corner of the picture is the QR [Quick Response] code. Passengers scan that QR code in and then they can download the app and sit on the coach and look at the readings,” Kasler said. “It will show you if you’ve gone above a threshold level.”
“The passengers are the first target audience that can use the data and see it. Besides them, the data can also be screened to the coach operators, the managers of the buses or trains,” Roei Friedberg, CEO of Aura Air North America, told The Media Line.
Kasler himself works with private operators, which use “everything from a Mercedes Tourismo, which is a 51-seater coach, right down to 10- to 12-seater minivans.”
He has seen a burgeoning business from school bus companies.
“A lot of these private operators are supplying the schools. Of the 111 that we’ve installed in the last week, I would say 30 to 40% of those are for school travel,” Kasler said.
The technology for the air purification system is also used for analytics and can be employed to help policymakers.
“If needed, we can export the data and share it with governments: with the Ministry of Health or other authorities managing the COVID situation in those countries,” Friedberg said, adding that the future of this kind of technology lies in information analysis.
“Aura Air is now investing a lot of time and efforts on data analytics, … different air indexes for viruses or to predict high-risk scenarios,” he added.
Friedberg says the technology is now in buses in the Netherlands and Croatia and will soon be utilized in the US.
In Israel, Aura Air works mainly with tourist operators, but Friedberg notes that the company is “now in negotiations with three big operators to also implement them in buses [for] public transportation.”
Aura Air system is crucial for industries such as transportation where people are especially anxious about catching the novel coronavirus, Friedberg said.
“We saw that from coach companies, buses, public transportation … people are afraid to use them,” he said. “Our technology is a one-stop-shop solution to purifying the air to provide a safe and healthy environment, [in addition to] show[ing] you the real-time data and giving you the confidence that the area is clean and secure.”
Boosting consumer confidence is a critical step in rebuilding the tourism industry in Israel, where tourists tend to spend a lot of time on buses.
“We went from 100,000 tourist [customers] In 2019 to 0. If we want to get back to our numbers, we have to create a safe environment for [them],” Samuel Smadja, president and owner of Sar-El Tours in Jerusalem, told The Media Line, noting that he has installed the Israeli-created technology on 25 buses.
“We will have a COVID-free environment on the bus; one thing for sure is that it will eliminate the fear of being 30 to 40 people on the bus,” he added.
The technology gives people additional assurance by relying on science, which arms them personally with information, Smadja said.
“It’s not enough if I tell them the air is good or the driver left the windows open; he’ll [the customer will] be able to check the air level on the bus by himself,” he said. “He does not have to trust me or my driver, but rather technology.
“I want to give customers something [to feel confident about their safety] which is beyond the masks,” Smadja continued. “If you see an airplane, everyone has masks, but you still have doubts about the quality of the air on the plane.”