Volvo adopts cleanroom technology

Mark A. DeSorbo

ROCKLEIGH, NJ—A cleanroom on wheels is a relatively new industry concept, but how about one that has a turbo-charged, 268-horsepower engine and a 100-watt sound system?

Volvo’s V70 and S80 models are equipped with unique contamination control systems. HEPA filters catch mold, dust, pollen and exhaust pollutants.
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It might not accommodate a semiconductor fab or a pharmaceutical lab, but it does seat and transport five adults. If you haven't guessed already, it's a car. Volvo has incorporated two forms of contamination control into its S80 and V70 models, one that gives occupants cleaner air to breathe and another to tackle harmful ground-level ozone, a component of smog.

“Volvo's environmental commitment began in 1972. Since then we have looked at ways to reduce our environmental impact effectively and holistically,” says Volvo Car Corp. spokesperson Jeannine Fallon. “These cars clean the air, inside and out. We've always considered transporting you safely, so why wouldn't we consider the air that you're breathing?”

According to Volvo, the Ford-owned, Swedish automaker's 2000 S80 and V70 models are equipped with HEPA filters to capture pollen and dirt particles in air flowing into the car. The cars also comply with Oko-Tex Standard 100, meaning all fabric, thread, padding, mats and belts are free of hazardous substances and residuals, which can cause allergic reactions.

In addition to the HEPA filters, a multi-filter with active carbon and a gas sensor monitor incoming air and reduce levels of nitrogen oxides, ground-level ozone and hydrocarbons, protecting occupants from the smell of exhaust fumes, windshield wiper fluid and oil.

According to Volvo, the ventilation system monitors the levels of toxic carbon monoxide in the incoming air and closes the air intake before the levels inside the car become unhealthy when driving behind trucks, for example, or in traffic jams or tunnels.

Perhaps the most innovative contamination control device in Volvo's S80 and V70 is a system called PremAir, developed by Engelhard Corp., an Iselin, NJ-based manufacturer of environmental technologies, specialty chemical and performance products.

A special coating, developed by Engelhard, has been applied to the radiators of S80s and 2001 V70 wagons, which actually convert ozone to oxygen. According to Volvo and Engelhard, tests have shown that S80s and V70s equipped with PremAir convert as much as 75 to 80 percent of the ozone that flows through the radiator into oxygen.

“The special coating is catalyst material and works the same way an automobile's catalytic converter works,” says Englehard spokesperson Denise Lenci. The hotter and more polluted the air is, she says, the more efficient PremAir becomes. The purification effect on hot days with high ozone levels can outweigh the ozone generated from the emissions of a modern car with catalytic conversion.

“A catalytic converter needs heat to work, but the special radiator coating works at ambient temperature. The coating functions better at higher temperatures, which is why the car's radiator is a good application for the coating,” Lenci says, adding that the coating adds less than $50 to the cost of a new car.

Technology goes commercial

Volvo is the first company to commercialize the PremAir coating on cars. The company began working with Engelhard to apply the new technology to vehicles in the summer of 1998. The radiator coating went into commercial production in December 1999 at a robotic facility that Engelhard built near Volvo's manufacturing plant in Solvesvorg, Sweden. The first S80s equipped with PremAir radiators arrived in Volvo showrooms worldwide in February, while the new V70 went on sale in April.

The development and application of PremAir is the latest in a long line of environmental achievements for the two companies. Volvo and Engelhard also collaborated in the 1970s to become the first companies to introduce the modern three-way catalytic converter used on more than 80 percent of the world's automobiles today. “Engelhard is looking to use PremAir in other applications. The company is looking at HVAC systems and indoor air filters, which would apply to cleanrooms, the goal being to clean indoor air as well as outdoor air,” Lenci adds.

Engelhard is also talking to a number of other automobile manufacturers who are considering implementing the technology. Along with Volvo, Nissan is using the PremAir system on its Sentra CA models. The “CA” stands for clean air, and the car is sold in California.


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