Step right up: Get your pulse corona here

Mark A. DeSorbo

LOS ANGELES—Godfrey Harris is looking for volunteers.

The managing director of Pulsatron Technology Corp., the maker of the Pulsatech device, is looking for companies that are seeking new ways of combating contamination in the manufacturing and cleanroom process.

A typical control room of a Pulsatech device, which uses pulse corona technology to combat contamination.
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“We are looking for anybody to try this technology, and if your company works with Pulsatron, we'd even pay you a royalty on all ongoing installations of this technology, with an older tool or a new tool,” Harris says.

And, he's flexible. The Pulsatech device, which uses electrons to split and render contaminants harmless, can be as compact as a freezer or weigh as much as 25 tons. It would be at home in numerous applications, from tackling the waste created in chip making or food processing to improving overall air quality and performance in cleanrooms.

It was during a trip to Russia that Harris, a physicist, discovered the advanced pulse corona technology. He and other partners obtained the rights to Pulsatech in 1993. “I felt I was John Marshall and I had just discovered gold,” he adds.

At the time, Harris says American and Italian researchers had also been developing pulse corona technology, but Russia was ahead of the game. “The goal was to use electricity to halt pollution. When an atom of carbon marries an atom of oxygen, you get carbon dioxide, which will kill you,” he says. “The game was how do you separate the molecules.”

The potential, Harris realized, was great. “I saw my expertise coming into the forefront, and I recognized that this is something that can be demonstrated instantly,” he adds. The Russian-made device not only wiped out pollution and contaminants, but it also killed odors, improved indoor air quality and intensified the cleanliness of a cleanroom.

In a cleanroom, according to Pulsatron, the device goes through three stages, all of which take a mere 100 seconds.

During the first stage, which takes between 0.001 to 10 nanoseconds, an electrode under high voltage from a pulse corona discharge emits free electrons. When the energetic electrons collide with gases such as Argon or Helium, positive ions and atoms are produced, and that is enough to destroy most of the organic and inorganic molecules.

From 10 nanoseconds to 0.001 of a second, activity in the second stage involves atoms of inert gases becoming intermediates with high chemical activity, allowing them to react with such pollutant molecules as ammonia, arsine, phosphin and silicon hydride. This reaction transforms molecules into their initial elements of hydrogen, nitrogen, arsenic, phosphorus and silicon.

In the final stage of the Pulsatech process, those same elements, silicon, phosphorous and arsenic, collide with each other within the device's chamber to produce conglomerates of aerosols, which filtered from the environment.


Upon his return from Russia, Harris sought the help of friend and former colleague Bill Butler, a consultant for the Sheet Metal Workers International Association (SMWIA; Washington, DC). The labor union selected contractor SSM Industries (Pittsburgh) to fabricate the first Pulsatech device, and once the first was completed, Butler fostered a relationship with the US Department of Energy (DOE), which enabled Pulsatron to demonstrate the capabilities of the Pulsatech.

Butler says the collaboration turned out to be a great fit, namely because sheet metal workers close to the HVAC industry and the DOE are very familiar with disposing hazardous waste.

“This particular device does a lot for indoor air quality. It has a wide range of things it can attack and eliminate,” says Butler. “It took us about three years to get everything in place, and so far, more than a $1 million, primarily government money, has been spend on the project.”

The DOE has been at the forefront of studying the potential uses of the Pulsatech device. Two years ago, MSE Technology Applications Inc. (Butte, MT) completed studies commissioned by the DOE to test the Pulsatech's ability to destroy organic compounds and nitrous oxides.

According to a DOE report, 95 percent of the nitrous oxides that were injected into the device were removed, but that data could not be compared to results from baseline technology because of equipment failures. “Equipment failures included servo drives, over-voltage on a control transformers, thyratron diodes, burned out resistors and various other problems that are typical of new experiment equipment,” the report says.

To determine how well the device attacked volatile organic compounds (VOCs), MSE injected toluene, benzene, trichloroethane, chlorobenzene as well as various combinations of the VOCs. “The Pulsatech device did not perform well in an offgas steam of seven percent carbon dioxide and 14 percent water,” the report indicates. “The majority of testing was performed in an offgas steam with two percent carbon dioxide and four percent water.

The Pulsatech device, according to DOE findings, was able to destroy toluene, benzene and chlorobenzene at concentrations up to 200 parts per million and up to 40 percent of trichloroethane.

The Pulsatech device was also slated for use in soil decontamination projects in Paducah, KY, where thousands of workers last year had reportedly been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation from plutonium and other radioactive materials at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Harris says shipyards in Connecticut use the device to control odors of styrene, while a Canadian chip manufacturer employs the Pulsatech to control several problems with formaldehyde.


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