Is your indoor air killing you? Chatting with OneLife CEO Christoph Burkhardt

We’re chatting with OneLife CEO Christoph Burkhardt about indoor air quality. Apparently … if you don’t have an air filter … you ARE the air filter in your house or office.

  • Christoph Burkhardt is the CEO of OneLife
  • They’ve developed a revolutionary new air purifier that they’re releasing next week in CES
  • We’re getting a sneak peek

What we talk about:

  • What are the worst problems with indoor air?
  • What percentage of people even know that they might have a problem?
  • There’s a lot of existing air purifiers out there … what’s wrong with them?
  • Replaceable air filters … one reason why people don’t buy purifiers?
  • Talk about OneLife … what makes your solution better?
  • PM1 … how small is that, really?
  • And … those are the most numerous particles, right?
  • Wireless? Battery?

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And of, course, you get get the full transcript right here:

Full transcript: OneLife air purifier

(Be aware, this is a lightly-edited version of an automatic transcription technology. There may be some errors.)

Christoph-burkhardtJohn Koetsier:   Hello, welcome. This is John Koetsier with Tech First Draft. Indoor air quality is often worse than outdoor air quality, and most people don’t know that. With recent fire seasons, outdoor can be horrific and that can come indoors as well. I live in Vancouver, BC, and we’ve had forest fires in British Columbia.

I know the people in Seattle have had that, and California had that really, really bad this past summer as well. Now, of course, we’re seeing Australia and the horrific conditions that they’re going through, and that’s all coming into our homes. So indoor systems to diagnose air quality, they’re getting more common.

I actually have three in my house because I’ve been testing a bunch of them right now, and one of them even told me that my furnace was leaking CO2, or carbon monoxide actually. So those are getting more common, but how do you fix the problems? So I want to introduce my guest. My guest is Christoff Burkhardt.

He’s the CEO of OneLife, and they’ve developed a revolutionary new air purifier that they’re releasing next week in CES at Las Vegas. So we’re getting a sneak peek. Welcome, Christoff.

Christoph Burkhardt: Thanks so much for having us.

John Koetsier: Excellent pleasure to have you. What are the worst problems with indoor air?

Christoph Burkhardt: So most people don’t realize how bad the air inside really is. And if you look at the numbers, and you mentioned the sensors that are available now, everywhere you get a feeling for especially fine dust particles being more prevalent inside than outside 5x to 10x more fine dust inside than outside.

So if you talk about the fires, most of the stuff that you can’t see that is the most harmful for your bodies, that basically you are filtering that air right now. So you’re breathing in all these pollutants and particles and your body… they’re so small, they stay in your bloodstreams and they cause real damage.

So most people don’t realize how bad this problem really is because you can’t really see it. And now it’s less obvious than food or water.

John Koetsier: So, kind of interesting what you’re saying is that if you don’t have an air filtration system, you are the air filtration system.

Christoph Burkhardt: That is pretty much what’s happening right now in most places around the globe. If you don’t have an air purifier, you are the filter basically. Yeah.

John Koetsier: That is a scary thought. Talk to me a little bit about the percentage of people who even know that they might have a problem. So I mentioned off the top that these devices are getting more common to diagnose what the problems are with your air, how much CO2 is in them, how much particulate fine matter is the air that you’re breathing.

What percentage of households do you think maybe in North America, Europe, other places around the world might even have those sensors?

Christoph Burkhardt: So I would say that this really depends on where you are. So obviously we see all over Asia, people have seen this problem more obviously, so they are more aware of it.

John Koetsier: Interesting.

Christoph Burkhardt: So when you go to places like Bangkok, people have have sensors to tell them whether it’s safe to do sports outside or not. And that’s pretty much 90% of all people. So they know, and they are very aware and they also know what filter to buy. So they’re a step ahead of the U S and then Europe is obviously last.

But the problem is very widespread. And you also have the problem that all the pollutants you just mentioned, they don’t stay in one place, but they travel. So especially the pollutants from the fire, even though you don’t live close to them they travel  really far and the fine dust particles stay in the air for a long time.

So even if you think you’re safe you might not be safe. And the sensor technology, since it’s becoming cheaper and cheaper. More and more people have sensors and that’s a good thing because they see it, as you said, you see things all of a sudden they were invisible before, and now you become aware and now you go the next step and you take care of the air you’re breathing.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. I did not know that the filters or the detection capability was more common in Asia. I totally get the logic there, that makes a ton of sense. Interesting to your point about doesn’t matter where the pollution is being created, it’s coming to you, I saw the news this morning.

You may have seen it as well, that New Zealand, the snow, the glaciers in New Zealand are turning brown with the dust and smoke and ash of the forest fires, bush fires in Australia. It’s a global planet.

Christoph Burkhardt: Exactly. Exactly. And we don’t know that much about these movements. So even plastic particles, you find them sometimes in Antarctica where there’s absolutely no one using plastic, but they travel really far.

And those are kind of big particles and we’re talking about the fine dust particles at PM1, that’s the smallest level we can detect right now.

John Koetsier: What exactly… talk to me about the size of a PM1 particle. What does that, relate that to something that people can understand, and tell me what the health issues are of even PM1 particles.

Christoph Burkhardt: So when you see light coming through through a window into your room, I mean, you see the particles in the air sometimes stands around. So those are particles PM10 or bigger, and then we go down to PM2.5. Right now, regulation worldwide is around PM10 to PM2.5 so they get smaller, the smaller the number gets.

And most sensors don’t detect PM1 right now, which is why we use a sensor in there that measures the PM1 level because these are so fine. They’re a hundred times smaller than your hair, so there’s nothing you can see while they travel through the air, but you’re still breathing them in and they stay in your body as I said and this is a real issue.

John Koetsier: So that’s really interesting. I mentioned I have three different air quality sensors in my house right now. I’m pretty sure that the smallest particle that any of them can detect is PM2.5 and so you’re telling me that there’s smaller particles there that also have health issues, and you’re able to not only detect them but remove them.

Christoph Burkhardt: Yes, it’s pretty much only because we can measure them, that we can show that we can remove them. I mean, you can’t really trust an air purifier that doesn’t have sensors to showcase what they actually do to the air. I’m going to need that, and especially we are looking for fully automatic systems, so they need to know what’s in the air to get it out.

John Koetsier: Smart, smart. Makes sense. So there’s a lot of existing air purifiers out there. I’ve looked at a Dyson, I’ve looked at a few others as well. And talk to me about some of the challenges and problems that you saw when you were designing your solution.

Christoph Burkhardt: Yeah. So it pretty much the problem, past different dimensions that we were looking at. So one challenge is that the technology is pretty old that’s the most common. So they use the HEPA filter technology that is basically a very fine knit net. And you push a lot of air through and the particles remain in the net. And this is great, the problem is you need a lot of electricity to push air through, and the finer the filter, the better the filter is, the more electricity you need because the ventilators have to go at really high speeds. Meaning this is actually making a lot of noise, which makes it a problem if you want to run it at night.

That’s something that was really important to us. We wanted to put the thing right next to our bed and then sleep fresh through fresh air, pretty much that that was a goal. And then the other thing was obviously we want it to be as green as possible. So low ventilator speed was one of the main issues that we wanted to solve.

And we kind of saw, okay, this is the one type of technology that’s the most common. And the market for that kind of purifier is going to double within the next five years. But the other thing is, if you don’t want to use a filter system, you use an E filter that charges particles and then they fly towards a capture wall.

So they stick basically to the walls and for that, you obviously need less air to be pushed and that’s why they’re quiet. The problem is that these E filters produce a lot of ozone, and the best performing ones are obviously the ones that produce the most ozone. So unfortunately if you use them in a room, and hotels will do that, so once there’s someone in the room that was smoking and was not supposed to, they have to put those filters in, those purifiers in overnight, produce the ozone, but no one can be in the room while they’re running because of the ozone. And then they have to open the windows the next day. So that’s obviously not a good solution.

John Koetsier: So ozone is good in the ozone layer, not so good in your air.

Christoph Burkhardt: Nah you don’t want that in your air, and especially not at high levels. I mean, there’s a little bit of ozone is everywhere and that’s not a problem, but you don’t want to increase the ozone in the room. That’s what we wanted to do.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. So I mean, it’s interesting, one of the reasons why my wife and I haven’t sprung for an air filter is we’re looking at what is the lifetime cost of an air filter. It’s not just the one time cost of something, but I know companies always want to build a business model that they don’t get paid for once, they get paid for infinity number of times, as long as you use the product. And I understand that from a business point of perspective. From a consumer perspective, I want to buy something once and it just keeps giving me value more and more. So replaceable filters is one reason we haven’t actually done that.

Talk to me about how much that can cost and how you see that as a barrier in people buying an air purifier.

Christoph Burkhardt: Yeah. So buying the air purifier in the beginning is one big chunk of that, they’re not cheap, especially if you want to get a good one. If you look at the market leaders, you’re always between $300 and then they go all the way up to $6,000.

But then the replacement of the filters, that gets really expensive over time. So you have to buy them every six months, you replace them, and as you said this is a good business model because they cost between $100 and $300 to replace them, and that’s twice a year. So they add another layer of cost.

And of course for us, even the bigger problem is that that is a lot of waste you’re creating. So if you’re collecting all the dust from the air, it sticks to the filters, then you have to replace the filters, and then paradoxically what happens is they have to burn the filters.

John Koetsier: Whoa.

Christoph Burkhardt: So all the stuff in there, it goes back in the air.

So that was obviously a problem that we saw, we thought that can’t be a good solution to the problem. So we wanted a filter that you don’t have to replace at all. So we developed one that actually goes into the dishwasher. You still have to clean it obviously because you’re capturing dust and after a while it won’t collect that much dust anymore.

But it’s interesting that you mentioned the Dyson because we actually tried to do exactly what the Dyson did at the time to the vacuum cleaners, to get rid of the filter bag and said, we want to do that without, because you need so much pressure for that, you lose so much energy. And what they did for the vacuum cleaner is what we do now for the purifier.

So you don’t have to replace the thing, and you just clean it yourself.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. Talk to me about the technology that you’re using to capture and filter the dust.

Christoph Burkhardt: Yeah. So we’re creating, I mean, I’m not the engineer on the team, but these guys are incredible. So they developed a plasma filter technology.

We create a very small plasma field which the particles fly through, and it’s similar to an E filter technology, but without the ozone. So they get charged and the particles stick to different plates that we put up, and the plates have a lot of space between them, that’s why the air flies just through, and that’s why we don’t produce any noise.

And also we are super energy efficient because we don’t really need the ventilators to run at high speeds. So that’s the main part. And that filter you just take out to wash, and it’s all very easy to clean. Yeah, so the plasma fields that you create around a string, and I obviously can’t tell you all the details yet, but you will get one when we have one, then you’ll see it inside, but we create these plasma fields, about three of them at the bottom, and then the air flies through three ventilators at the bottom.

The air goes from the bottom, through the top of the machine, comes out clean at the top, and then that is clean air.

John Koetsier: So plasma, I’m familiar with plasma on the surface of the sun or in a star or something like that. It’s pretty hot stuff, isn’t it?

Christoph Burkhardt: Yeah, we do it at a very, very tiny level, and it’s this corona that you think this is, it looks like a light bulb, but it’s very low energy that you use really to create that plasma field, because we’re talking about particles that are super small.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Excellent. So in some of the press photos that I’ve seen of the device, and I look forward to seeing it in person as well. I don’t see a wire. Is this wireless so you have a battery in there that it can just run and charge up or does it have to be plugged in?

Christoph Burkhardt: At this point, it still has to be plugged in. We’re lowering the energy we need basically every day, but we still wanted a boost mode. That means if you see from your other sensors, whatever shows you that the air is bad in your room, we wanted the boost mode that actually is able to within 10-15 minutes clear out your room no matter how bad the air is in there. We need more electricity than the battery could provide.

John Koetsier: Interesting. And so I see that it looks like, because I’ve seen it in relation to a desk or a chair or something like that, it’s a fairly significantly sized object. It’s very well designed. It looks amazing. I’m sure in many homes, modern architecture, design, clean lines. But the size, what kind of home can it deal with and how many do you need? Let’s say if you have a typical North American home or a European home that might be 2,500 square feet or, you know, 400 square meters or something like that. How many do you need?

Christoph Burkhardt: So it more depends on how bad the air is, where you live.

That’s why we measure all the time. Our app shows you the outside air and the indoor air at the same time so that you’d get a comparison. And then that way we already know how to adjust the machine, but we can easily filter air in a building up to 1000 square feet. If you live on different levels, then it might become difficult because unless you leave your doors open at all times, if you put one thing in the middle of your home, it will clear the air.

It just takes longer. So the clean air delivery rate, which is the indicator we use to compare air purifiers, is great for any kind of building. It just takes more time if you want to clear it out. So the more people are obviously living there, and the more the doors move and the air moves, the more purifiers would actually have.

So if you want to do this in an office building you would probably need more, if you go at 2,500 feet.

John Koetsier: Yes. Yes. Interesting. Okay, cool. And then maybe we’ll end here unless there’s a few other things to talk about, but talk to me about the impact of poor quality air just on your health. I can understand there’d be longterm health consequences. You’re breathing in particulate matter, that sort of thing, but also on your performance.

Christoph Burkhardt: Yes. So obviously this has a huge impact on office life as well as just the health at home. Obviously it will protect your kids, but if you think about kindergartens or schools, they usually don’t have air purification yet.

And we spend a lot of time there. So obviously wherever people spend a lot of time working, thinking, and not moving a lot, there the purifier would do a really great job boosting the performance and boosting health. Because we know that the impact is incredible, so from the studies there’s a performance increase, just putting an air purifier in an office setting increases performance by about 16% measured in productivity.

So that’s the productivity part and the performance part obviously athletes always workout and train, when they workout inside, indoors, they always work with purified air because that’s really dangerous to not do that. So if you think about a cycling studio, if you think about any gym, if they don’t have purified air, because you’re  breathing more, this is more harmful for you to breathe in all these particles. So in these locations it would definitely make sense to think about purification like that.

John Koetsier: That is interesting. I’m in San Francisco quite frequently in their Soul Cycle there, and they put about 60 people in this room, the size of my living room. And you are working hard. I mean, I burned 600 calories in an hour, right? So it’s a hard workout and I hope that air was clean.

Christoph Burkhardt: Yeah, I hope so too. And the problem is that people like you show up with their sensors and will show them one day.

John Koetsier: Yeah, that’s true. I actually have four sensors in my house cause I have a mobile sensor. It’s crazy, I know. Interesting. What have I not asked? And what else do you want to say?

Christoph Burkhardt: I think we have a great opportunity here. I hope we can push and this is really what the company stands for or wants to stand for, this is our mission, is not only to help with the health and productivity, but I think we need to shift a little bit the perspective that technologies that we’re seeing now in the next decade.

They’re not only there to solve a problem, but they need to be way more efficient at doing what other systems do. But not only thinking about the convenience or the effectiveness of the technology, but thinking about what can we reduce in the capacity and resources that it requires to get to clean air and then use the same principles to ask for clean water.

And actually, this is what we’re looking for right now, is allies all over technology who say, yes, we want to do clean tech, green tech that reaches the same level of performance that our competitors do. And that’s this is a real good challenge, I think, to put in front of engineers of the next generation.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Engineers are critical to the next generation as we approach all the challenges of climate change and other things like that, automation coming out and other things like that. So thank you for that. Thank you for spending some time with me. Thank you for joining us all who are listening on Tech First Draft, whatever platform you’re on, please like, subscribe, share, or comment.

And if you’re on the podcast later on, listen to this, you like it, please rate it and review it. Thanks again Christoph. Really a pleasure to have you. And until next time, this is John with Tech First Draft.

Christoph Burkhardt: Thanks so much.