Consumer demand for clean and purified living spaces is rapidly increasing around the world
Awareness of health maintenance and hygiene on the part of general consumers is sharply increasing. Many households use air purifiers to remove invisible factors that are harmful to one’s health, such as dust, pollen, mold, and PM2.5 particles. Moreover, such air purification has become used for removing tobacco smoke and odours, etc. in an increasing number of places such as ordinary homes, restaurants, hotels, etc. to improve the quality of such spaces.
The need for air purification has increased around the world in recent years due to growing awareness of health maintenance centered around advanced nations and improvements in standards of living in emerging nations. Against this backdrop, the technology for keeping homes, offices, and environments in cars, as well as commonly used equipment and tools, clean and purified is becoming a key point for adding value to consumer electronics and household equipment. In addition, this trend is further accelerating due to the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
Ionizers and ozonizers that distil the essence of technologies cultivated by Murata over many years
Murata Manufacturing (hereinafter, “Murata”) develops “ionizer” devices that ionize air molecules and “ozonizers” that generate ozone. They are offered under the “ionissimo” brand to add value to consumer electronics and other products.
Ionizers and ozonizers are devices developed using the high-voltage circuit, insulation, and structural design technologies cultivated by Murata over many years. They are able to efficiently generate ions at low voltages and can maintain safety and reliability in consumer electronics and other products while adding high-level air modification features. Moreover, we achieved module miniaturization through the adoption of our own structural design and circuit design. They can even be embedded in narrow spaces in the interior of consumer electronics.
The effects of Murata’s ionizers and ozonizers are wide-ranging and include air purification, sterilization, mold prevention, deodorization, and the removal of electricity (Figure 1). They are already employed in various use cases such as removing dust with air purifiers as well as suppressing mold in air conditioners and removing odours and sterilizing inside refrigerators and vacuum cleaners. Going forward, they are likely to be broadly applied in more familiar applications such as automobiles, nursing, health care, pets, and interiors, etc.
The need for air modification in living spaces is spreading around the world due to the coronavirus pandemic
In 2020, the lifestyles of people around the world suddenly changed due to the impact of the novel coronavirus. To defend against the threat of an unseen virus, the number of people who are vigilant about sterilization and disinfection precautions in daily life is increasing around the world. Thus, they are now strongly demanding features in air purifiers and air conditioners for creating safe and purified living spaces. We spoke with a manager who is involved with ionizer and ozonizer product planning at Murata about the changes in air modification needs and the features that are desirable in ionizers and ozonizers.
Sterilization and disinfection precautions becoming an ordinary daily action
■ How have consumer needs changed with respect to the hygiene control and purification of the environments that we live in and the consumer electronics and other products that we use on daily basis?
Since the global spread of novel coronavirus infections, the need for sterilization and disinfection measures in particular have rapidly increased. Nowadays, ordinary people can be seen disinfecting with alcohol at commercial buildings and entrances to office buildings everywhere. This act of disinfection, which was previously never seen, has become a daily behaviour. The phrase “new normal” is now heard in various situations. Actions such as wearing a mask and occasional sterilization as well as the utilization of instruments and equipment with sterilizing and disinfecting effects are common and becoming deeply rooted at the same time.
I feel that hygiene control and purification efforts were already advanced in Japan owing to its national character, which prefers and requires hygienic environments. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, similar efforts have spread throughout the world.
The wearing of masks is a good example, but when the novel coronavirus started to spread, there was almost no culture of mask wearing in the world. That has now spread as a common and daily sight across the globe. This is evidence that the way in which the people of the world think about hygiene control and environmental purification has definitely changed. It is thought that there is a growing possibility that many such behaviours may continue even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.
■ And has the product value of consumer electronics such as air purifiers, which can be expected to have a sterilizing and disinfecting effect, increased?
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, air purifiers and air conditioners were steadily spreading to consumers in some countries who expect such products to prevent damage to their health due to PM2.5. Since the coronavirus pandemic, models that can remove not only dust and PM2.5 but also provide sterilizing and disinfecting effects have become broadly used not only in Japan but also in Europe and Asia (Figure 3). I now feel that the demand for such value-added air purifiers and air conditioners has rapidly increased throughout the world.
Moreover, it is not only consumer electronics aiming to sterilize and disinfect an entire room like an air purifier that are increasing in demand, as recently there is an increasing number of inquiries for devices that can be expected to provide sterilizing and disinfecting effects for items that are directly touched by an unspecified and large number of people. Because ionizers and ozonizers can be expected to have sterilizing and disinfecting effects, it can be said that the product value of such devices is rapidly increasing.
They not only modify and sterilize the air within the room at all times but also need to have ways to sterilize as needed.
Yes, that’s right. Ionizers and ozonizers can be utilized for both constant use and temporary use as needed.
Using the demand for sterilizing and disinfecting features as an opportunity to experience the efficacy of secondary effects such as deodorizing and mold prevention, etc.
■ Ionizers and ozonizers can be expected to have many effects in addition to sterilizing and disinfecting such as removing PM2.5, odours, and mold. Globally speaking, are expectations increasing with respect to such points?
It is my impression that the expectations for sterilizing are taking the lead on a global level. However, we think that the needs will gradually increase as consumers who are newly introducing air purifiers due to the coronavirus pandemic experience the efficacy of non-sterilizing secondary effects. Of course, if they can clean the air, suppress mold, and remove odours, perhaps the number of people who discover value in such devices will increase. It is believed that this will become a factor for continuous use even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.
After becoming accustomed to an environment where an air purifier is used, they will not want to return to the previous environment without one. We feel that consumers who have started to use an air purifier will choose products that combine air purification with odour removal and sterilization features.
We believe that odour removal and sterilization will become required features not only in ordinary homes but also in retail stores, restaurants, and hotels as well as car sharing services that are expected to become popular going forward. The removal of odours and proper sterilization of locations and items used by an unspecified and large number of people will likely become the deciding factor when consumers choose which store or car sharing company to use.
From value-added features to standard features in the new normal era
■ What types of devices are ionizers and ozonizers currently embedded in?
They are largely embedded in air purifiers and air-conditioners. They are primarily equipped in high-end models, etc. manufactured in Japan. Going forward, we think that they will tend to also be equipped in high-end models and popular models that are not manufactured in Japan.
In air conditioners, sterilization and other air modification features are now becoming equipped as standard features rather than high value-added features.
We feel that they are becoming equipped as “new normal” features that should be standard equipment. We think that the use of ionizers and ozonizers has high value as a means of sterilization, etc
Generating ions and ozone by applying a high voltage
■ Please tell us about the differences between ionizer and ozonizer.
An ionizer ionizes air molecules to generate and emit ions (O2-, OH-, N2+, etc.). Some products also emit ozone (O3) together with the ions. On the other hand, an ozonizer efficiently generates and emits ozone from oxygen molecules (O2). It does not generate ions. They have generators with different structures and are offered as separate products.
■ Under what principles do they respectively generate ions and ozone to achieve effects such as removing particles suspended in the air, sterilization, and deodorization?
In an ionizer, a high DC voltage is applied to a needle electrode to create a charge concentration and a corona discharge, which causes electrons to be exchanged between molecules by energizing the surrounding air molecules (Figure 4). Then the molecules that received the electrons become negative ions. At Murata, we are also able to generate ozone when applying a high voltage by adopting our own ion generation structure.
Ions have an electric charge, and they attract and capture suspended particles with that Coulomb force to remove them from the air. Generally, this feature is used to clean dust, etc. in the air.
In an air purifier, etc. a method that uses a filter to remove particles is also used. However, by using it in combination with an ionizer, it can promote the capture of dust and particles to effectively remove dust, etc. with the filter.
■ So under what principles does an ozonizer operate?
In an ozonizer, a high AC voltage is applied to a ceramic substrate that forms an electrode internally to create an electrical discharge on the surface of the substrate (Figure 5). When that happens, the oxygen molecules separate due to the electrical discharge energy and become oxygen atoms. These separated oxygen atoms combine with other oxygen molecules to create ozone.
Ozone has oxidizability. We use this property to make it possible to sterilize, disinfect, and deodorize.
Developed by applying accumulated high-voltage technologies and ceramic substrate technologies
■ How long and under what circumstances have ionizers and ozonizers been developed at Murata?
Murata started ionizer development from around 2004 based on the negative ion fad around 2000. Negative ions attracted attention not only as what were referred to as “soothing negative ions” at the time but also as a method for removing PM2.5 and other particles that are detrimental to one’s health, and negative ion generators started to be equipped in various consumer electronics.
High-voltage power source technologies and ceramic substrate technologies, etc. were required to create negative ion generators. Murata has assembled a set of technologies that are required in a negative ion generator through the development of high-voltage resistors, high-withstanding-voltage capacitors, and high-voltage transformers that were preceded by flyback transformers. In addition, we thought that we could develop higher-performance ion generators by applying Murata’s core technology of ceramic firing and its many years of experience in lamination technology. This is how the company started the development of ionizers. Then we succeeded in developing ionizers that achieve high reliability in a compact module. Later, we successfully developed an ozonizer product that generates only ozone by adding further improvements to the ion generator structure that uses a ceramic substrate.
■ At roughly what scale is the company currently producing ionizers and ozonizers?
Currently, the number of inquiries aimed at novel coronavirus measures is increasing, and we are shipping 400,000 to 500,000 modules per month including both the Japanese and overseas markets. We think that the number will further increase if ionizers and ozonizers are equipped as standard features in air conditioners, etc. as lifestyles adjust to the new normal going forward.
High-reliability Murata modules that can achieve combined effects
■ Many companies have undertaken the development of technologies aimed at sterilization and deodorization, etc. using ions and ozone, etc., which are equipped in consumer electronics. Please tell us about the advantages of Murata’s technologies for ionizers and ozonizers.
The ability to generate both ions and ozone in one ionizer module is a unique feature of Murata’s ionizers. This makes it possible to create an applied product that can be expected to have multiple effects such as sterilization and deodorization as well as air purification when incorporated into an air purifier or air conditioner. Moreover, Murata’s generator is able to generate ions and ozone at a low voltage. By achieving a low voltage, it has a low failure rate, keeps foreign substances from adhering to the generator, and suppresses corrosion of the discharge needle to provide a long service life.
■ From the point of view of the user, if they operate an air purifier or other device, they would like to experience an immediate effect, so that is a welcome feature.
However, because ozone is a gas that may affect the human body, it is dangerous to unnecessarily generate a high concentration in a device, etc. that is used all the time. With Murata’s products, it is possible to generate a high concentration of ozone in a scenario where people are not involved and suppress the generation of ozone in other situations. We have also prepared ionizer models that suppress the ozone generation rate as much as possible. Because regulations are applied to the ozone generation amount depending on the country or region of use, such ozone concentration control is important to create applied equipment that conforms with the laws and ordinances of the destination.
It is not the case that a high concentration should be created unnecessarily.
Separating the generator and the power supply to improve the degree of design flexibility of applied equipment
In addition, because we adopt a structure that separates the generator and high-voltage power supply, the high degree of mechanical design freedom when embedded in applied equipment can be said to be an advantage. The mounting position may be restricted, because it generates a high voltage. However, the use of an isolation structure increases the degree of freedom when equipped. Moreover, the generated ions and ozone must be radiated or dispersed onto the object using a fan, etc. However, when the generator and high-voltage power supply are placed in the same location, they may interfere with the airflow. With Murata’s modules, it is easy to place them in separate locations to create an ideal environment.
■ The fact that they are highly reliable and easy to embed in applied equipment would seem to be a significant advantage in extending applied equipment going forward.
Murata’s ionizer and ozonizer modules are offered in a form that reconciles the generator and high-voltage power supply specifications to achieve the best performance. There are many user companies that procure each component from different companies to configure the applied equipment. However, if the power supply voltage is too high, the ozone generation may become too high and damage the generator, and if it is too low, the ions and ozone may not be emitted. By designing both together, we tailor and offer effective and high-reliability products.
Preparing products with optimized specifications according to use cases
■ Please introduce the line-up of ionizers and ozonizers that the company currently offers.
We have prepared four types of ionizers for cases in which an air purification feature based on the constant use of negative ions is required such as in air purifiers and air conditioners. Within those products, we have assembled a type of ionizer that generates ozone and a type that conversely suppresses it is much as possible to allow for the user to make a selection according to the required feature. The ionizers include types that input a DC power supply and types that input an AC power supply. Thus far, we released AC input products that support AC220 to 240V, but in the spring of 2021 we also plan to release a product with an AC100 to 120V input. In addition, we also have products with different output line lengths to connect the generator and high-voltage power supply in consideration of customer ease of use. In addition to these four types, we have also prepared models that generate positive ions and models that can effectively remove electricity by embedding them in dryers, etc.
Meanwhile, we have prepared an ozonizer for cases that require sterilizing and deodorizing features only. Currently, we have prepared four types of ozonizers that generate different amounts of ozone. With an on/off feature through an external signal, user companies can set an ozone concentration suitable for the device. In addition, we also have products that are equipped with a heater that can be used even in high-humidity environments. These products are expected to be used in high-humidity environments such as dishwashers and washing machines, etc. Going forward, we plan to release products that can generate a higher amount of ozone.
■ Have you considered the use cases and assembled products with the necessary specifications?
We plan to think about the use cases in greater detail while expanding the lineup in the future. When considering global expansion, some have expressed the opinion that AC input modules are easy to handle for Europe and Asia. In the case of previously adopted digital equipment, there was a DC input inside the equipment, so we used that voltage and had customers adopt DC input-type products. However, it is thought that an AC input is needed in order to have “new normal” sterilization features become standard-equipped features in every device.
■ Please introduce evidence for the effects that can be obtained in the expected applications.
This is an introduction to the results of an in-house evaluation by Murata of the airborne PM2.5 cleaning effect using negative ions generated with an ionizer (Figure 6). A particle size of 2.5 mm or less is called “PM2.5.” However, of the particles that were floating in the test space, approximately 85% had a particle size between 0.3 mm and 0.5 mm, approximately 10% were between 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm, and approximately 5% had a size of 0.7 mm or more. Of these particles, the particles with a size between 0.3 mm and 0.5 mm will continue to float in the air if they are left as is. We verified that running an ionizer promotes the capture of such particles and that particles with the same size had been reduced by more than 40% after 60 minutes.
■ PM2.5 is a type of air pollution that has become a problem in China, South Korea, and all of eastern Asia. Looking at these results, an ionizer is essential to maintain one’s health.
In addition, ionizers and ozonizers have sterilizing and disinfecting effects. It was thought that the spread of the novel coronavirus would settle down worldwide, but it has continued on a larger scale through second and third waves. It is believed that continuing to carry out some sort of measures will become essential. I hope that Murata’s ionizers and ozonizers can make even a small social contribution in the new normal lifestyle.
Ionizers and ozonizers secretly remove unseen threats
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world have been forced to live with an awareness that unseen threats are definitely present in their surroundings. However, we are living not only with the coronavirus but also with many unseen threats such as PM2.5, bacteria, and allergens, etc. If we can be clearly aware of those threats similar to the coronavirus and implement measures without fail, we can lead safer, healthier, and higher-quality lives.
Murata says that it will continue to develop and offer ionizers and ozonizers with more effective characteristics going forward to meet the needs of global consumers who have become conscious of living space hygiene and purification. However, because these are tools for supporting measures to combat unseen threats, those effects tend to be difficult to experience. Accordingly, Murata is carrying out tests anticipating various use cases together with universities and evaluation organizations in order to clearly demonstrate the efficacy of ionizers and ozonizers and will continue its efforts to obtain evidence. This article introduced evidence for the efficacy with respect to PM2.5. In addition, we also have test results for various types of efficacy such as deodorizing and mold prevention, etc
Features that remove unseen threats are becoming essential features that should naturally be equipped in air conditioners and other consumer electronics due to increased consumer awareness of health management and hygiene control. It appears that Murata’s ionizers and ozonizers are becoming essential for secretly supporting our health.
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