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:
Filtering particulates from air makes a significant & measurable diff to health. Wd like to credit Larry Page with turning me on to this.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 2, 2016
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.
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.”
Watch air pollution levels inside Model X drastically drop when we turn on Bioweapon Defense Mode in Beijing pic.twitter.com/HLjyvj3H2C
— Tesla (@Tesla) May 3, 2016
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.
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.
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