SIGS Research: Using strong electric fields to kill harmful viruses

Transmission routes must be cut off to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. In hospital environments, it is important to efficiently disinfect surfaces and effectively treat medical wastewater which also contain disease-causing organisms.

Associate Professor Zhang Ruobing’s team at the Tsinghua SIGS Institute of Energy and Electrical New Technology has been expanding on technologies to kill pathogens using strong electric fields. The team has initially developed a portable plasma surface disinfection device as well as a device for inactivating liquid medical waste. Their work meets demands for medical equipment disinfection and aids epidemic prevention in hospitals.

Emerging physical sterilization and disinfection technologies using nonthermal plasma and pulsed electric fields have gradually matured over the years. Related technologies have become an important supplement to traditional disinfection methods, and have been improved as alternatives due to their advantages such as simple operation, high efficiency, and no secondary pollution.

Powered by strong pulsed electric fields, the portable plasma disinfection device can be used on surfaces that are sensitive to high heat and pressure. The liquid medical waste inactivation device is controlled by intense pulsed electric fields and can kill viruses in microsecond timescales.


Plasma jet arrays (left) and pulsed electric field power source (right)

Currently, the team is optimizing the system and actively working with the Shenzhen University General Hospital and others to carry out follow-up evaluation, in hopes that it can be applied as soon as possible to aid the epidemic fight.

In recent years, Zhang’s team has been devoted to the research of nonthermal plasma and pulsed electric fields. They have achieved results in improving discharge uniformity, generating a wide range of low-temperature plasma jets, and sterilization of liquids.

Apart from playing a role in fighting the epidemic, plasma jet arrays and pulsed electric field technologies will play an important role in the fields of next generation precision medical equipment, heat-sensitive material packaging, and intelligent manufacturing.

Photo by Fu Yongqiang

Edited by Karen Lee