An air purification machine rests in the office of Derek Jackson, a lead in installing. Air Purification machines are set to be installed in as many dorms as possible.

An air purification machine rests in the office of Derek Jackson, K-State’s associate vice president for student life. The university is installing the machines throughout campus to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

K-State is installing dry hydrogen peroxide machines in residence halls and other buildings as part of its effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

The wall-mounted machines are the size of a large fan and constantly emit dry hydrogen peroxide, a gas that kills microbes in the air.

“They use them in surgical centers, ICU units, laboratory spaces; it produces an airborne sanitizer that sanitizes the living microorganisms in the air as well as on surfaces,” said Derek Jackson, associate vice president for student life. “We wanted to add another layer of protection for our students who are sharing spaces.”

Jackson said the campus has worked with the Lenexa-based Synexis company, which invented and produces them, for almost two years. K-State officials first became aware of the Synexis machines when the university successfully used them to tackle a mold problem in one of the residence halls.

The machines are not cheap. Jackson did not have an exact figure, but he said he expects K-State to spend a couple million dollars on the system. Each one costs $2,000, and he anticipates the university eventually will install them in every dorm room, the rec center, testing environments where students are sitting still for a long test and the health center lobbies.

Workers began installing the machines last week with K-State planning to initially install more than 1,000.

“We tried to prioritize where they would be best deployed,” he said. “This is about where will we see a lot of students all at once — where would you need extra layers of help.”

How the machines work

K-State plans to install several types of DHP machines. Those in the residence halls will treat about 1,000 square feet. Larger ones can treat up to 2,500 square feet. Some are mounted on the walls while other are set on the floor or work in conjunction with the HVAC system, Jackson said.

“This dry hydrogen peroxide technology is a way of reducing the amount of viruses and bacteria that are in the background of normal everyday living, whether it’s SARS-CoV-2, or some rhinovirus or some cold virus or some other SARS-type virus,” said John Henneman, bio containment facility engineer at K-State. “This system in the background is constantly there. It does not affect us. As far as breathing or activities, we won’t even know it’s there.”

Synexis developed the DHP system. It uses ambient humidity and oxygen naturally present in the environment and creates a safe level of hydrogen peroxide gas, which reduces microbial contamination in the air and on surfaces. According to the Synexis website, a light-activated catalyst breaks apart the oxygen and water vapor molecules, which are put back together as hydrogen peroxide in its gas phase.

“It creates hydroxy radicals, and those are what kill things, but they’re at such a level that it has no effect on us,” Henneman said.

Many people when they hear hydrogen peroxide think of the brown bottle found in medicine cabinets that’s used for cuts and scrapes. That hydrogen peroxide is about 3%, which is a much higher concentrate than what the Synexis machines emit.

“A single Synexis unit … would have to run continuously for two and a half years to reach the concentration of one droplet of a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide,” Henneman said.

Because DHP is a true gas, it can reach into most out-of-reach areas of a room but it is not an end-all to COVID-19, Jackson said.

“You still have to maintain your environment,” he said. “But it is sort of the icing on the cake. It’s always running. It’s always reducing living organisms in the environment.”