HEPA filters are composed of a mat of randomly arranged fibres. Key metrics affecting function are fibre density and diameter, and filter thickness. The air space between HEPA filter fibres is much greater than 0.3 μm. The common assumption that a HEPA filter acts like a sieve where particles smaller than the largest opening can pass through is incorrect. Just as for membrane filters, particles so large that they are as wide as the largest opening or distance between fibres can not pass in between them at all. But HEPA filters are designed to target much smaller pollutants and particles are mainly trapped (they stick to a fibre) by one of the following three mechanisms:
1. Interception, where particles following a line of flow in the air stream come within one radius of a fibre and adhere to it.
2. Impaction, where larger particles are unable to avoid fibres by following the curving contours of the air stream and are forced to embed in one of them directly; this increases with diminishing fibre separation and higher air flow velocity.
3. Diffusion, an enhancing mechanism is a result of the collision with gas molecules by the smallest particles, especially those below 0.1 µm in diameter, which are thereby impeded and delayed in their path through the filter; this behaviour is similar to Brownian motion and raises the probability that a particle will be stopped by either of the two mechanisms above; it becomes dominant at lower air flow velocities.
Diffusion predominates below the 0.1 μm diameter particle size. Impaction and interception predominate above 0.4 μm. In between, near the 0.3 μm MPPS, diffusion and interception predominate.
The initial filter air flow resistance and final filter air flow resistance are typically measured as pressure drop across the filters.
HEPA Filtration History
The original HEPA filter was designed in the 1940s and was used in the Manhattan Project to prevent the spread of airborne radioactive contaminants. It was commercialised in the 1950s, and the original term became a registered trademark and a generic term for highly efficient filters. Over the decades filters have evolved to satisfy the higher and higher demands for air quality in various high technology industries, such as aerospace, pharmaceutical processing, hospitals, healthcare, nuclear fuels, nuclear power, and electronic micro circuitry (computer chips).
Today, a HEPA filter rating is applicable to any highly efficient air filter that can attain the same filter efficiency performance standards as a minimum and is equivalent to the more recent N100 rating.
HEPA filters are critical in the prevention of the spread of airborne bacterial and viral organisms and, therefore, infection. Typically, medical-use HEPA filtration systems also incorporate high-energy ultra-violet light units to kill off the live bacteria and viruses trapped by the filter media. Some of the best-rated HEPA units have an efficiency rating of 99.995%, which assures a very high level of protection against airborne disease transmission.
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