Aqua21’s submission to the global Pandemic Challenge competition has reached the final 5.

Taking the fight on from social distancing

The ability to reduce cross-contamination, to driving the transmission ration down below 1, is critical to the fight against the spread of any infection or disease. During this Covid crisis, social distancing has been used – at tremendous human and economic cost – to reduce the contamination of one human being by another. It has reduced the traffic and interaction of people but it has done nothing to reduce the contamination of shared spaces that inevitably take place. A light-switch, a doorhandle, a telephone, a wall or a floor – all can harbour Covid long after an infected person has contaminated it and been on his way. Whether in hospitals, transport hubs, other shared public spaces, or just around the home, keeping a surface clean will help to prevent indirect infection. The ability to decontaminate and disinfect shared spaces and surfaces is therefore key to stopping the spread of Covid.

Lockdown obstructs traditional protection methods

Traditional disinfection and protection products are typically manufactured on a medium to large scale – necessarily remotely in an industrial plant – and of course require delivery and distribution. Despite key industry and worker status, both of these proved more difficult to maintain as the infection rates climbed and self-isolations reduced workforces. Already the demand for direct PPE (google, masks etc) outstrips supplies in many areas and countries. The demand for disinfection products rises as the efforts to minimise infections work together to obstruct supply.

A locally-produced disinfectant biocide

Over the last decade Aqua 21 has worked tirelessly to produce ozonation equipment at a cost point approximating a tenth of plant of similar function. Initially this was aimed at disaster relief scenarios, where one of the highest costs and most pressing of priorities is the delivery of cheap, safe water. This ‘disruptive’ ozone technology from provides inexpensive, and safe supplement (and alternative) to central sourcing of disinfecting materials. And we now meet a disaster of the distributed kind needing a distributed response. Aqua21 can reduce even further the size and cost of our ozonation plant so that small, low-cost devices can produce local disinfection – where it is needed and rolled out to meet the immediate needs of the vulnerable and in line with science-based preventive disinfection strategies – and at a local level. Small, lowcost devices will locally produce ozone. Ozone is internationally  understood and accepted as a fast and powerful disinfection agent.

Water mode of local disinfection

Initially foreseen as a boon to the battlefield medic or the bush doctor, the availability of clean, safe water with a residual biocidal effect is a potentially game-changing protection against this and future pandemics. The medic could clean a battlefield injury; a disaster relief worker could fill a refugee’s ad hoc water carrier with safe water which would also clean the container. Now the taps and faucets in a care home can be retrofit with a cheap device to dispense biodical water and keep those most at risk from this crisis safer and more secure. We do not apologise for asking again: why does the water not fall out of every hospital, care home and school tap not just safe and clean but biocidal too? (Ozone is manufactured at point-of-use from air and a small amount of electricity. Even the electricity can now be harvested from water flow.)

Gas mode of disinfection

Not all infected surfaces lend themselves to water disinfection. Some crucial medical spaces for instance are highly complex and it is just these that need to available for use for as high a proportion of the time as possible. Ozone also disinfects as a gas in air. Imagine a heavily-utilised ambulance during a crisis. This highly complex space is sure to be infected and cleaning it is a time-consuming and repetitively costly and disruptive task. A device very similar to the water-based device above (in fact very much a subset of its parts) could discharge into the rear of the ambulance a mild dose of ozonated air which would penetrate the complex space disinfecting the nooks and crannies. A swift ventilation to remove the residual gas – easy in a moving vehicle – and the space would be free and safe for use again. Or consider the heavily soiled and infected shared spaces in a transit hub. Busy all day, these could be sanitised at night when empty by the deployment of an ozone gas mixture – penetrating every corner and leaving them safe for the next morning’s rush hour.

Real-time measurement and control

Water-borne ozone is entirely benign at the concentrations required to deactivate viruses. However, like many disinfectants, at high concentrations gaseous ozone is a toxic irritant to humans. Both of these issues – the ability to deliver a lethal dose to our Covid enemy and the ability not to hurt humans – require measurement. Fortunately, we have previously invented, protected and deployed a low-cost sensor which can measure in real-time the concentration of ozone in water, and with some understood modification will be able to do the same for ozone in air. This means that we can control our processes to disinfect what needs to be disinfected but protecting what needs to be protected – humans, nature, and the built environment.

The need for speed

We can leverage our experience in water and ozonation, our contacts and clients in industry and agriculture and build a team to meet this challenge starting immediately. There is no time for delay. Deployment can be executed against the example provided by the introduction of anti-scald valves throughout the UK in a very short period. This was a programme in which one of our team took part and the volumes and pace required are understood, as are the unique requirements of scaling-up dramatically while maintaining quality. it might even be possible to control a continuous micro-dose of gaseous ozone in certain key areas to ensure a 24/7 protection.

Beyond the horizon

The response to the current crisis has been unprecedented. The legacy of lockdown and the prolonged social distancing to come will be with us for many years. It is imperative therefore that the next crisis – the one we cannot yet envisage does not  require us to execute such drastic remedies. The major advantage of our proposal is that it is not money spent and forfeit just on the ledger of this particular outbreak. The response remains in place producing biocidal water and clean spaces where the vulnerable and the superspreaders alike go about their lives. Biocidal water will join the fight against other hospital and care home infections and against the spread of resurging childhood disease. Even the sturdiest pathogen eventually yields to ozonation. This can be the model for a future of sustainable, decentralised safety and hygiene. Instead of being yet another cost of the present crisis, it can be an investment in the future.