Air Quality

Published on May 3rd, 2016 | by Kyle Field

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Biohazard Defense Mode Delivers On Claims

May 3rd, 2016 by  

siblings

Tesla is serious about air quality and is aggressively pursuing tech on several fronts — eliminating vehicle tailpipe emissions, and with the introduction of Model X last year, an impressive new cabin air filtration system. Prior to the announcement, you had probably never thought of cabin air filtration as an important feature in a car, nor had something known as “biohazard defense mode” been something you would want in your car.

…until that day. The day Tesla dropped bombs on us. Elon shared that the air we breathe in while driving is taking months off our lives. Think about that. Just breathing in the (dirty) air … sucking in the exhaust … from the cars around you in traffic statistically shortens your life. But boom! Tesla swoops in to save the day and brings in one air filtration system to rule them all in a supersplendulous double filter system that cleans the air in the car better than hospitals do.

Elon shared yesterday that it was Google CEO Larry Page who turned him onto the importance of clean air — and specifically, clean air in the cabin of a motor vehicle — when it comes to life expectancy:

Since the announcement of the new filtration technology, the Model X has actually been delivered to customers (far more than 6) and the Model S has been upgraded, now offering the über air filtration capabilities that had previously only been available on the X. So, it’s out. You can buy it right now … like, today. But so what? The real question is not what Tesla can deliver to you (when you cough up tens of thousands of dollars) … but what the system can actually do. In other words, does it really work?

Apparently, Tesla has the same skeptical thoughts as I do and charged forward with the construction of the requisite isolation bubble and ancillary testing equipment and started crunching the numbers. What came back is truly amazing. Tesla found that the cabin air filter scrubs extremely high levels of small airborne particulate — also known as PM 2.5, which stands for particulate matter and droplets that are 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller — in fewer than 2 minutes.

The test started with concentrations of 1,000 µg/m3 of PM2.5, which is extremely high when compared to the EPA’s “good” air quality index limit of 12 µg/m3. That’s really the stat that matters. The filter cleans pollutants out of the air in the car and continues to clean any noxious materials that may surface while it’s on. This beautiful graph visually demonstrates the effectiveness of the cabin air filtration system at removing cabin air PM2.5.

biohazard-line-graph-2x

Tesla wanted to prove the obvious, so it let the car run for an unspecified amount of time and it actually lowered the pollutant levels outside the vehicle (in the bubble) as well. That’s almost completely arbitrary, as the first test already proved that, yes, the filtration system does indeed filter PM2.5. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of time until it pulls a statistically significant amount out of the “public” air in the bubble … and Tesla doesn’t say how long it ran. Presumably, it would filter all of the PM2.5 out of the air in the bubble if left running long enough, because that’s what a HEPA filter does. Mmm … yup.

But seriously, putting the captain obvious comments away for a bit, this is still an extremely impressive result. Using this filter (in biohazard defense mode) will extend your life. Just like not smoking will extend your life. Or not breathing in Beijing. Or not eating meat. But I digress.

Confirming that biohazard defense mode delivers real results is fantastic. Tesla doesn’t rest there but kicks it up a notch, sharing that it will continue to explore better ways to deliver high-quality air filtration, capping off the announcement with a call for audience participation. This is a critical difference with Tesla. It has created a product that exceeds everything else on the market to such an extent that it has become a magnet for innovation.

Not only do those who want to be on the cutting edge of tech want a Tesla, but they want to improve Tesla. The Tesla Motors Club forums are ablaze with suggestion threads for every topic under the sun. Tesla attracts innovators. And when they come, Tesla welcomes them in with open arms and a glass of lemonade. Okay, maybe not that last part.

“Suggestions for improvement are welcome.”

Here’s the full announcement from Tesla Motors:

Air pollution has a significant and pervasive impact on public health. According to the World Health Organization, it is now considered ‘the world’s largest single environmental health risk,’ with more than three million people dying every year as a result. This is more than twice the number of people that die in vehicle accidents each year.

Health and safety are important to us. Just as we’ve designed Model S and Model X to avoid collisions or protect their occupants when one happens, we felt compelled to protect them against the statistically more relevant hazard of air pollution*. Inspired by the air filtration systems used in hospitals, clean rooms, and the space industry, we developed a HEPA filtration system capable of stripping the outside air of pollen, bacteria, and pollution before they enter the cabin and systematically scrubbing the air inside the cabin to eliminate any trace of these particles. The end result is a filtration system hundreds of times more efficient than standard automotive filters, capable of providing the driver and her passengers with the best possible cabin air quality no matter what is happening in the environment around them.

The air filtration system was put to the test in real-world environments from California freeways during rush hour, to smelly marshes, landfills, and cow pastures in the central valley of California, to major cities in China. We wanted to ensure that it captured fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen and mold spores.

We then decided to take things a step further and test the complete system as we would on the road, but in an environment where we could precisely control and carefully monitor atmospheric conditions. A Model X was placed in a large bubble contaminated with extreme levels of pollution (1,000 µg/m3 of PM2.5 vs. the EPA’s “good” air quality index limit of 12 µg/m3). We then closed the falcon doors and activated Bioweapon Defense Mode.

biohazard-bubble

The plot below shows the subsequent evolution in pollution levels inside the vehicle and inside the bubble. In less than two minutes, the HEPA filtration system had scrubbed the air in Model X, bringing pollution levels from an extremely dangerous 1,000 µg/m3 to levels so low as to be undetectable (below the noise floor) by our instruments, allowing us to remove our gas masks and breathe fresh air while sitting inside a bubble of pollution.

Not only did the vehicle system completely scrub the cabin air, but in the ensuing minutes, it began to vacuum the air outside the car as well, reducing PM2.5 levels by 40%. In other words, Bioweapon Defense Mode is not a marketing statement, it is real. You can literally survive a military grade bio attack by sitting in your car.

Moreover, it will also clean the air outside your car, making things better for those around you. And while this test happened to be done with a Model X, the same would be true of the new Model S now in production.

biohazard-line-graph-2x

Tesla will continue to improve the micro-geometry and chemical passivation defenses in the primary and secondary filters, which are easily replaceable, so this will get better the longer you own your car. Suggestions for improvement are welcome.”

All Images courtesy: Tesla Motors


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About the Author

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. TSLA investor. Tesla referral link: http://ts.la/kyle623



  • Travis K

    Seems impressive, however, Tesla forgot to compare against a reasonable baseline. How does a normal car do? I assume much worse but there is no data here or in Tesla blog post to support that.

    • nuvi

      Also, an ICE would be contributing to the PM load.

  • TheWordistheWord

    This is a good idea when you’re say passing through an industrial side of town or by a nuclear power plant. I had a diesel rental the last time I went to Europe and besides getting 50+ miles to the gallon (hauling ass) on bio diesel, it was equipped with a very good cabin air filter handy when passing by the old defunct soviet nuclear power plants of central europe. This whole “biohazard” angle Tesla is working is smart because it’s really pollution hazards cars should protect us from. Drive I75 from Detroit to Toledo if you want to know what I mean.

  • Brunel

    A few years ago I felt that Rolls Royce cars should have pure air inside.

    But it is Tesla that is first with an anti-pollution filter!

    • TheWordistheWord

      Ah don’t be so sure. Many diesel cars have had HEPA filters on them. My last rental car in Europe had a great one. It was a diesel.

      • Brunel

        Tesla are proud of their filter and say their filter is huge in comparison to filters in other cars.

        I think theirs is probably the best.

  • cynicus

    “In less than two minutes, the HEPA filtration system had scrubbed the
    air in Model X, bringing pollution levels from an extremely dangerous
    1,000 µg/m3 to levels so low as to be undetectable (below the noise floor) by our instruments”

    I don’t know what instruments they used, but only $1000+ instruments give reasonable results measuring PM10 or PM2.5. The Environmental Agency in the Netherlands (RIVM) only uses instruments in the $100k range (but those also measure e.g. NOx). The cheap ~$20 Chinese sensors are really only useful to determine if you’re sucking air directly from an exhaust pipe or not.

    This result is definately great for fortun(e)ate inhabitants of cities like Bejing, I’m curious what the filtering does for air quality in developed countries with better air quality. E.g. 12 to 50 µg/m3 is something we still see regularly in our clean Dutch air. But even that level is damaging and measurably reducing lifespan (any level does so, really).

    • TheWordistheWord

      So how do those $1000+ instruments rate true HEPA filters? I’m pretty sure the guys at Tesla can afford $1000+ to test their stuff. Sounds like you’re confusing “instruments” with “filters”. Do you mean to say only $100,000 filters can clean the air?

      “This result is definately great for fortun(e)ate inhabitants of cities like Bejing”
      I take it you’ve never driven I75 from Detroit to Toledo, Ohio.

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