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Jim Metropoulos, CEO and founder of Blue Box, talks about the innovative foam solution he developed to clean the coils of HVAC systems in large facilities, ranging from casinos and manufacturing plants to some of the top hospitals in the country.
Nolan Johnson: Jim, tell us about yourself, as well as Blue Box and what you’re doing.
Jim Metropoulos: Absolutely. The patented Blue Box enzyme treatment is an innovation I developed about five years ago. During this global pandemic, Blue Box has developed an additional treatment that kills airborne pathogens, such as the coronavirus, trapped in a building’s HVAC system.
When I founded Blue Box, I like to say it was “accidental innovation” because I did not set out in the world to solve the great coil problem that no one else knew about. Blue Box was originally started to do chemical cleaning in refineries. The treatment system itself was very compact—the size of a suitcase back then— but I could fill a three-story house with foam. I would mix in hydrochloric acid or sodium hydroxide, and it was a way to do chemical cleaning in big industrial systems.
I was looking for a way to clean big industrial systems to improve heat transfer efficiency and energy consumption. If you can improve efficiency, the HVAC system will consume a lot less energy. It was a new model for carbon reduction.
Then, I started to clean big industrial systems using enzymes because, in industrial equipment, you form what’s called biofouling in systems. Biofouling is when bacteria and fungus start growing, forming biofilms–a slime that starts forming on equipment. The problem is that biofilms are chemically resistant, so I pioneered a way to use enzymes that would digest it out. The virtue is there are no chemicals involved; it’s pH-neutral and safe to handle.
About five years ago, I toured a big auto plant with an engineer, looking at other systems, and we walked past an air handler. In auto plants, they use air handlers for controlling the air and humidity in paint-proofing operations, but they also have air handlers throughout the plant for air conditioning. I wasn’t thinking about HVAC, but he asked, “Can you adapt your process to clean the coils in my air handlers?” My reply was, “Sure, how hard could that be?”
Virtually every modern building in the world is outfitted with an HVAC system, running at some level of inefficiency and unhealthiness, simply because there’s never been a way to clean the heat transfer coils within that HVAC system. All the air must pass through the coils in order to be heated or cooled. Then, it’s piped into a building.
Coils can be very big in these HVAC systems. They could be 20 feet high, 30 feet across, and three feet deep, and they’re very dense. They’re designed so only air molecules get through, but they also load up with dirt and grime—specifically bacteria or fungus. You have a lot of condensation inside the coils, and wherever there’s condensation, you get biological growth. If you ever walk in a building and it smells funky, you’re smelling dirty coils in that building. Those coils are disgusting.
To read this entire interview, which appeared in the August 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.