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Grad Student Rigs Cheap Alternative To $1,000 Air Purifiers In Smoggy China 182

An anonymous reader writes "University of Virginia grad student Thomas Talhelm was living in Beijing on a Fulbright Scholarship during the winter of 2012-13, when air pollution was so bad scientists likened it to a nuclear winter. Those who could afford it were resorting to an expensive solution: air filters costing up to $1,000. Talhem built his own on the cheap, getting comparable particulate count results, and has started a company that both markets the product to middle class Chinese and shows others how to DIY."
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Grad Student Rigs Cheap Alternative To $1,000 Air Purifiers In Smoggy China

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  • How is anybody supposed to make money like that? Won't someone think of the shareholders?

    But, seriously, that's pretty awesome and surprisingly simple.

    • Re:What the hell? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @12:34PM (#47575045)

      Almost all air purifiers are nothing more than a fan blowing through a filter. Thanks to fans and filters being commodity items, there are many retail HEPA air purifiers on sale for close to this guy's price. The article is little more than a cherry picking fallacy.

      Next up: Man rigs cheap alternative to $500 Denon patch cable.

  • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @12:29PM (#47575017)

    It would be cheaper for everyone to just fix the pollution problem by putting heavy restrictions on emissions. Seriously, $1000 dollar air purifiers to remove the debris put in the air to save $0.05 on scrubbers is stupidity of the highest order. In a lot of cases the scrubbers are already on the factories because Chinese law requires them, just doesn't require that they be in operation. In about a year China could dramatically reduce this pollution to western world levels with simple installing or activating scrubbers on smoke stacks.

    This continues to show China is a pay for play game, in that you are well connected enough in the communist party and laws and environmental rules just don't apply and it doesn't matter if it kills the little people.

    • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @12:43PM (#47575113) Homepage Journal

      This continues to show China is a pay for play game, in that you are well connected enough in the communist party and laws and environmental rules just don't apply and it doesn't matter if it kills the little people.

      Lol, yea, they make great capitalists, don't they?

    • It would be cheaper for everyone to just fix the pollution problem by putting heavy restrictions on emissions

      This implies that they have the capability. Grease the palms of the inspectors, local officials, etc and the government will never know that you are polluting. I could be wrong, but it is also completely possible that the government would need to fix corruption before they can actually attack pollution.

    • This is not a simple solution. There are many sources of pollution, which are amplified in winter by homes burning coal for heat. Automobiles are a large source of airborne particulates, and with many small sources it will take awhile to fix, but at least we've seen it can work in cities like Los Angeles.

      • It is incredibly simple and relatively cheap given the costs the pollution imposes. China's mix of pollution sources is little different than the rest of the world.

        Non point sources are about 40% of the emissions mix and composed mostly of vehicle emissions in the summer with some heating emissions from wood and coal in the winter. The cars they are buying for the most part have the same systems in them as they do in the US, the problem is the fuel used is incredibly dirty. This could be fixed in less than

    • by m3000 ( 46427 )

      This continues to show China is a pay for play game, in that you are well connected enough in the communist party and laws and environmental rules just don't apply and it doesn't matter if it kills the little people.

      The same could be said about the US too..... []

    • There are reasons to want to own an air purifier even if you live in a place that doesn't have tons of pollution.

      The most common would be allergies. If you get a decent one, it can nab pollen out of the air no problem. This can make living in a place where you have allergies to something much more tolerable.

      They also help with dust accumulation. I live in the desert so we get lots of particles in the air, humans or no humans. An air filter can help clean that up. Makes it easier to keep the house clean.


  • Maybe China should try reducing the pollution at the source

    • They would. But we're not willing to pay 10% more on the cheap crap they produce for us.

      • That 10% more would probably just go into the pockets of their rich. It's not like they don't have them there, too. They infest everything.

  • ... but I don't see anybody else saying that *they* actually thought of it before this guy did as a means of solving the problem of China's air pollution.

    A lot of ideas are obvious once somebody announces what the idea actually is. Honestly, I think that people who would criticize the inventor simply because of the idea's apparent simplicity or obviousness are being rather snobbish, if you ask me.

    But hey.... some might find it comforting to think that such values, which might otherwise seem outdated in today's word, are still alive and thriving in our society.

    • I've already done the same thing. I had an air purifier where the proprietary filter was dirty and clogged. I couldn't find a replacement, so I just used a 3M Filtrete furnace filter trimmed to size. I suppose if you have central air on all the time, just having a good furnace filter would suffice.
    • A lot of ideas are obvious once somebody announces what the idea actually is.

      In this case it's just plain obvious. Try doing a google image search for air filter fan.

      • Yet, nobody else thought of selling it for cheaper to Chinese countries. Heh.

        • Are you sure about that? Other than this one article what makes you think that all or most Chinese citizens with air filtering fans were paying $1000 for them?

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )

      If he's never seen one before, it's ingenious. I've seen one (years ago []) so it seems obvious to me. *shrug*

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        If it was so obvious to you, then why didn't you suggest it before he did?
        • by suutar ( 1860506 )

          because I was unaware that the going rate for filter units in China was $1000, and therefore didn't realize that there was a problem that this was a solution for.

          • by mark-t ( 151149 )
            I somehow would think that being ignorant of what the underlying problem might be would generally preclude a solution being particularly obvious to them, except in retrospect.
            • by suutar ( 1860506 )

              My point was that the obviousness of a solution depends heavily on whether the observer has seen the solution before or is making it up from scratch. It seems to me that the visible characteristic of an 'obvious' solution is that when you tell someone the problem ("this air filter costs $1000") they come up with the answer immediately, without much thought ("why not just take a box fan and stick a filter on it?"). Not knowing a problem exists does not necessarily make the solution non-obvious, just irreleva

        • Probably because he doesn't live in China.

          This is China we're talking about, with 1.3 billion people. I'm sure that people have already strapped filters onto fans, this one guy just happens to be getting some feel-good-DIY publicity because he's marketing his product. Kudos to him because it seems like a good thing that he's doing this, but I would be amazed if this is actually considered novel in China.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      Go on AliExpress, there are loads of cheap air purifiers with HEPA filters. TFA says "up to $1000", and actually even high end Japanese models are usually much less than that. Chinese manufacturers sell many models that are basically the same as what this guy invented - a HEPA filter strapped to a fan - for $30-40.

    • I've been doing this for years when I paint in my garage ... I'm not saying I'm brilliant but not everyone thinks of things as being this easy so some people need to be told.

      I was refilling the refrigerant in my truck A/C with Propane last night... My neighbor came out with an "ummm, what are you doing?" look...

    • Go to Amazon and look for HEAP air fliters for home use. You will find models from $50 to $250.
      Yeah, A LOT of people have had this idea and brought products to market.

    • You can see it right in the Slashdot thread where people link to Youtube videos of this being done a long time ago. The idea of "stick a filter on a fan" isn't new because that's PRECISELY what air filters are. They don't make any bones about it.

      So, why doesn't everyone do it? Well because it turns out DIY isn't much cheaper if you want it to work well. When I first heard of the idea, on Youtube, I said "let's try that!" Went and got out one of my box fans, bought a filter at Home Depot, and taped it all to

  • Box Fan + Filter. Posted 6 years ago []
    Box Fan + Filter. Posted 3 years ago from a university []

    Not sure if these are the same thing. If it is, then it's sad this knowledge isn't more common place to help people out.

    • I have one of these running in my apartment and it is mediocre at best. I have radiator heat and window AC, so I figured it would be nice to have the kind of air circulation and filtration that a furnace blower provides.

      Some filters are better than others, but standard box fans are not designed to have to blow air *through* anything. They don't push the air hard enough to force it through the filter, so airflow really drops down. Perhaps the hepa filters this guy is using are better (furnace filters an

    • by Swave An deBwoner ( 907414 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:21PM (#47576465)

      Yes, same thing but he uses a fancy looking fan instead of a cheap old (in the US) box fan. He even uses a particle counter to measure the result just like the MD in your second link "from a university" (the University of Michigan) did. I'm posting the UoM link below; it contains a link to the Youtube video you posted.

      "Build a do-it-yourself air purifier for about $25" []

      The difference in this case so far as I can tell is that instead of showing people how to make an air purifier for the price of a box fan and a furnace filter, he's trying to start a company to manufacture and sell the things.

      I have a couple of these at home and yes, they work great.

      • Replying to myself just to add:

        1. Instead of taping the filter onto the outflow side of the box fan, tape it onto the inflow side so that the filter protects also the fan itself from the dust in the incoming air.

        2. I first used Filtrete "Elite Allergen" but then switched to the cheaper "Ultimate Allergen Blue" for better air flow. Both work well though.

  • ... that way we can pretend nothing is really happening. And the industry to make the filters? Produces pollution to do so... A cycle of foolishness.

    • by Kaenneth ( 82978 )

      And coal burned to produce power for the fans themselves...

      How does the power efficiency on compare vs. a designed for purpose fan? does the extra resistance overheat the motor, increasing fire hazard?

      • Wouldn't it be nice to let engineers run society by design, balanced by laws implemented by philosophers? We'd be moving forward much more slowly and carefully because money wouldn't be part of human existence, and we can fully say that how far we've come has given us enough fruits to improve us and support us while we make smartly calculated steps forward.

  • Living is a basement apartment in Boston I had problems with particulates from the street. I removed the window screen, installed a filter in its place, and mounted a window fan on the inside. Whole house air filter and didn't even need the box. 15 years ago, I claim prior art if he patents it.

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