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EP Purification

Photo by: Heather Coit

Two University of Illinois faculty members have developed a better ozone generator, and they hope to use the ozone for cleaning laundry, purifying water and preserving food.

J. Gary Eden and Sung-Jin Park -- a professor and adjunct associate professor, respectively, in the UI's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering -- have formed EP Purification to commercialize the technology.

The company won the $100,000 Wells Fargo Early-Stage Prize at the 2014 Clean Energy Trust competition this spring in Chicago. EP Purification won the $100,000 grand prize, which it will use to get its product ready for market.

The company's CEO, Cy Herring, said ozone is a better disinfectant for water than chlorine. Ozone -- an unstable gas formed by three oxygen atoms -- reacts more quickly and has fewer potentially harmful byproducts than chlorine, he said.

Through the years, chlorine has been more popular because it's cheap, he said.

But using microplasma technology, EP Purification has developed ozone generators that are smaller and more efficient than conventional ozone generators.

For one of the first applications of the technology, the company hopes to incorporate the device in laundry treatment systems.

It's working with a local company, TMCS Inc., to have the device installed in institutional laundries, such as those in health care facilities and hotels.

Max Redmond, owner and president of TMCS, said his company provides contract housekeeping and laundry services for health care facilities. For the last eight years, his firm has provided ozone generators for laundries. Redmond said he has been collaborating with EP Purification for two years.

"I'm very impressed with their background and knowledge of ozone," Redmond said, adding that EP has agreed to produce devices that TMCS will install.

Eden said if ozone technology is adopted on a wide scale, the potential cost savings to the U.S. would be "mind-boggling."

With ozone, water doesn't have to be heated to as high a temperature, laundry time can be shortened, labor and energy can be saved, and the amount of bleach and detergents can be reduced, he said.

Ozone can also be used to treat municipal water supplies and the water in swimming pools, Herring said. Water districts in several large metropolitan areas treat water with ozone, Eden said.

Other roles for ozone include water purification in countries such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic and extending the shelf life of foods, Eden said, citing tests that show treating fruit for 10 minutes a day can extend its shelf life by a week.

EP Purification hopes to expand sales to 500 units by the end of this year and eventually have a core production facility in Champaign-Urbana.