Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Plant-based Air Cleaning Technology for indoor Air Quality (Act-IAQ)(ST9971)

Syracuse University


Previously funded research by NYSERDA has found that most commercially available air cleaning technologies cannot remove all the types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) typically found in buildings. There has been research conducted that supports the use of vegetation in buildings to reduce VOC levels. This cleaning occurs because plants in combination with specially designed soil system and microbes have the ability to convert the VOCs to a food source. Dr. B.C. Wolverton, formerly of National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has developed a hydroponic air purifying system based on this approach. Phytofilter Technologies, Inc. is a Saratoga Springs company that has acquired the exclusive US rights to Wolverton's technology. Phytofilter is interested in having this technology evaluated by Syracuse University as part of its commercialization plan.

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Project Description

A prototype system was tested in Syracuse University's full-scale indoor/outdoor environmental simulator. The university developed computer simulation models to predict the long-term performance of the Wolverton air cleaning system. The energy savings attributable to this technology for typical New York office buildings were estimated using EnergyPlus computer software. The Wolverton air cleaning system was installed and demonstrated in a building of the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems.


The Wolverton technology could dramatically improve the indoor air quality of buildings. This technology could reduce the energy needed to ventilate and air condition buildings by 15-20% in some climates.

Project Results

The full-scale chamber experimental results indicated that the hydroponic air cleaning system had high initial removal efficiency for formaldehyde and toluene without plants in the bed. With the plants, the filter system had even higher initial removal efficiency (90% for formaldehyde in the first four days, and over 33% for toluene). In the long-term field demonstration test, it was found that 5% outdoor air plus the operation of the biofilter could achieve the same room formaldehyde/toluene concentration as having ventilation with 25% outdoor air. Whole building energy simulation results showed that using the hydroponic air cleaner to substitute 20% of the outdoor air supply without adversely affecting the indoor air quality could save from 10 to 15% in annual energy consumption for Syracuse's climate (26% saving in heating, 2% in cooling and 1% in ventilation energy consumption). Energy savings were predicted to be approximately the same for New York City’s climate. Assuming a single air cleaning system can serve almost 5,000 square feet of office area, the cited energy savings in dollars (including resulting demand reductions) are $300 per year in Syracuse and $500 per year in New York City.


Syracuse University
727 East Washington St. Attn: Tamara Rosanio
Syracuse, NY 13244

Principle Investigator

Jensen Zhang

Universities Involved

Syracuse University


Project Type:

Product Development

Technologies Types:

Building Systems
Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning
Cooling & Ventilation

NYSERDA Contact Information

Robert Carver


R&D - Buildings Research

Contract Details

Start Date: 3/26/2007
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST9971

Last Updated: 1/31/2013