(Editor’s note: The article was updated on Jan. 18, 2020 to reflect a clarification in a quote from Robert Green noting that the VK 401 VirusKiller unit has been tested on the novel coronavirus.)
What if there were an air purifier that could kill viruses and bacteria living in the air? Would you use it? Would you feel safer going into a restaurant or fitness center that uses such technology?
John Doolan, a Truckee resident, sure would and he’s working to help grow a small South Korean-based product line that does just that, starting with a test market right here in his home town. The name leaves no doubt about its purpose: VIRUSKILLER™ .
Upon hearing about this unique technology, Robert Green, owner of the popular Cottonwood Restaurant in Truckee, knew that he wanted in.
“[The VirusKiller units] are currently manufactured in a facility in Seoul, South Korea,” said Doolan, explaining that the patented technology was developed following the 2003 SARS outbreak (see sidebar, next page). “There are only a few people producing the units at this time, which is why they need my help to quickly scale in order to meet demand from [the North American] market.”
VirusKiller can be found in North America but up to now has been used only in medical and dental facilities. With the help of Doolan, Radic8 is working to boost manufacturing capability with the goal of bringing its products to other industries like restaurants, fitness centers, schools, shopping centers, and public places. There is also a model suited for personal use in the home.
“We’re hoping with this equipment to be the cleanest, safest space in Truckee,” Green told Moonshine Ink as he unboxed Radic8’s VK 102 model a day after its New Year’s Eve arrival.
Doolan had gotten to know Green a few years back as he was launching his app Kynbo, an online marketplace for restaurants to showcase their menus, attract customers, and take orders. When he became involved with Radic8, he knew Cottonwood would be the perfect place to introduce VirusKiller to the market.
“Robert Green at Cottonwood is a forward-thinker and always is on the lookout for things that can help his restaurant provide a great dining experience for his patrons … and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was looking for ways to help his customers feel more comfortable dining indoors,” Doolan said. “This, combined with Cottonwood’s history and popularity, make it a great location from which to gauge customers’ reactions and capture their feedback.”
Cottonwood isn’t the only Truckee business to have discovered VirusKiller. Tahoe Mountain Fitness, whose focus is group classes, is in talks to become the first fitness center in North America to use this technology.
“At Tahoe Mountain Fitness, our utmost priority is our members’ and guests’ health, safety, wellness, and fitness, of course,” said Holly Hust, who owns TMF with her husband, Jonathan Van Roo. “Although many 2020 studies have proven that COVID-19 is not being spread at gyms and other fitness facilities due to heightened health and safety precautions gym owners and staff have taken, we at TMF are definitely interested in taking any further steps we can to ensure our tribe’s safety.”
At Cottonwood, several units of three different types will be installed. A rather unassuming and freestanding 5-foot tall VK 103, with the VirusKiller logo emblazoned on the front, will serve to purify air in the main dining room. Smaller, wall-mounted VK 401 units, each around the size of a standard pillow, will protect both the fireplace dining room and bar areas. A smaller tabletop Hextio model, commonly used in homes, will be at the far end of the bar and in the kitchen. Each unit emits a subtle, soft blue glow.
On its second of three settings, which is what the main dining room unit would be set to during business hours, noise from the VirusKiller is barely noticeable, its sound coming not from a fan but from the force of the air flowing through it. And unlike other similar products, the VirusKiller does not give off ozone, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, can damage the lungs when inhaled. Low amounts of ozone can cause chest pain, cough, shortness of breath, and throat irritation. It may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma or compromise the body’s ability to fight respiratory infections. Furthermore, the FDA notes: “Available scientific evidence shows that, at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is generally ineffective in controlling indoor air pollution.”
Studies show that viruses can penetrate high efficiency particulate air filters. What sets VirusKiller apart is its patented ultraviolet light Reactor Chamber, with key placement after the HEPA filter, thereby destroying any remaining particulates that might have passed through. Test results show a near 100% kill rate on respiratory viruses, including coronavirus, on a single air exchange.
“The [VK 401 has] been tested on the [novel] coronavirus itself,” Green noted. “As well as SARS, influenza, pathogens, and allergens.”
Although recently released vaccines offer promise, Green recognizes that it could still be a long road back to normalcy. He says that for the government to make sweeping, one-size-fits-all regulations doesn’t work and is unfair, as some businesses may not be taking measures to ensure a safe indoor dining experience, while many are willing to go the extra mile to do so. He’s hopeful that the government will revisit dining regulations and institute a fairer, more nuanced system that would allow those taking extra precautions
to remain open.
“John first suggested this and said, ‘You know, we can put it [toward the] back where no one will see it.’” Green recalled. “I [said] no. I want it in the middle of the dining room. With the sign and the blue light and everybody that walks in goes, ‘What the hell is that?’ That’s a virus killer.”
How VirusKiller Came To Be
“I was introduced to the owners of Radic8 by a friend who owns a home in Tahoe Donner,” John Doolan shared, who is charged with boosting the manufacturing capability of Radic8 to help the company expand. “Radic8 was interested in growing the North America market, but needed increased manufacturing capacity to meet the demand, but didn’t have the expertise in-house. In a previous life I was responsible for developing and managing various consumer electronics supply chains, so I was brought on to develop Radic8 NA manufacturing operations.”
During the 2003 SARS outbreak in South Korea, prominent researchers from the Korean Aerospace University and Sungkyunkwan University joined with other engineers to “create a technology that could effectively eradicate airborne viruses and other pathogens from indoor air environments,” according to the company’s website. By 2004, South Korean company INBair, established by senior engineer Ken Lee, developed the VirusKiller technology that destroys the widest range of airborne pollutants, including viruses, bacteria, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
The company continued to grow, receiving development grants from the South Korean government, its technology being the only one to meet the government’s specifications for lung examination rooms, the website notes. VirusKiller has been installed in more than 370,000 locations throughout South Korea, including hospitals, schools, and government buildings, in addition to other public places like museums, restaurants, nursing homes, and libraries.
In 2017, when his own father was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), British innovator Richard Greenwood began to research different methods of indoor air purification. He discovered that while numerous companies were making “ambitious claims” about their products, they did not have the research and results to back up those statements. Until he found VirusKiller. That same year, Greenwood met with INBair founder Lee and Steve Kwon, who served as chief technological officer of LG Electronics for three decades, and whom Lee had brought on as a strategic technical advisor and director. Their meeting led to Radic8, a partnership between INBair and Greenwood that sought to take VirusKiller’s technology global.