Non-Thermal Plasma Case Study

“Non-thermal plasma technologies provide clean, highly effective, simple to use, and nondestructive ways to sterilize objects in the field and in production.”

The Challenge

Military, Homeland Security and Environmental Protection Agency personnel are required to operate in environments where they may be exposed to and work with objects that may be contaminated with biological threat agents. Handling and transporting contaminated objects can further contaminate equipment, clothing, as well as vehicle and aircraft interiors. The ability to decontaminate objects being handled or transported is essential for personnel safety and for avoiding contamination of aircraft/vehicle interiors. Currently there is no practical method for decontaminating sensitive electronic equipment or aircraft/vehicle interior and exterior surfaces without permanently damaging and grounding equipment. Organizations involved need the capability to decontaminate operational equipment or aircraft interiors, exteriors or cargo that have been contaminated with biological threat agents, such as bacteria, viruses, or toxins, without degrading the function of the equipment. Most current biological neutralization methods use bleach, which cannot be used on sensitive equipment and aircraft structures. CMI was tasked to develop and evaluate simple, inexpensive, easily deployable technologies to neutralize surfaces tainted with biological threat agents.

Reaching the Solution

CMI worked closely with an Air Force integrated product team to develop capabilities for neutralizing threat agents using rapid acting, man-portable, non-thermal plasma (NTP) devices. NTP technologies were developed and demonstrated to show highly effective neutralization capabilities. Devices were evaluated for efficacy of kill as well as for suitability for operational deployment in preparation for transitioning the technology into operational reality. This effort included the demonstration of two types of NTP generators. A portable, surface application device (Surfx Technologies) and a portable chamber application NTP neutralization device were tested. During this program, protocol was established for bacterial spore propagation, culturing, harvesting, titration, preparation from experimental exposure, and bioassay analysis. Additionally, toxin neutralization testing was conducted using Shiga toxin.

The Outcomes

The successful development of the NTP generators gives a new capability for the warfighter and first responders to neutralize biological agents on surfaces and within enclosed volumes using dry systems. The studies found that 1) NTP can rapidly neutralize bacterial spores, vegetative bacteria, viruses and biological toxins on multiple types of surfaces using no chemicals or solutions and leaving no residues; 2) One device showed a 99.9999% kill of Bacillus anthracis spores in less than 1 minute of exposure while the other accomplished that reduction in 30 minutes; and 3) NTP was safe to use on sensitive equipment, (e.g. avionics, electronics, optics, etc.). Use of NTP for field sterilization of surgical instruments and production of sterile health care products is being investigated by CMI and its partners.

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