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DEC. 1993/JAN.


Fume Hood Scrubbers - Part III

Gas-Phase and Particulate Filtration Systems
Dale T. Hitchings, PE, CIH
Mr. Hitchings is President of SAFELAB Corporation of Indianapolis, Indiana, a consulting firm
specializing in laboratory planning, safety and design consulting, indoor air quality and industrial
ventilation consulting, and laboratory fume hood testing and training. He served as the first chairman
of ASHRAE technical Committee 9.10 on Laboratory Systems. He is a Registered Professional
Engineer and a Certified Industrial Hygienist. He may be contacted for questions regarding this topic
or other laboratory related issues at 317-872-6600.

This Article is reprinted in its full length and unedited form from the Dec.’93 and Jan.’94 issues of LABORATORY BUILDING
DESIGN UPDATE, published by Source II Corp., 550 West B Street, Suite 230, San Diego, CA 92101, (619) 232-0985


INTRODUCTION: are porous and have extremely large is called breakthrough. After
Environmental restrictions on fume surface areas with sites onto which gas breakthrough occurs, gases will pass
hood effluent in states like Delaware, and vapor molecules are trapped or through the bed at higher and higher
NRC/DOE regulations and increasing adsorbed as they pass through. For concentrations until the upstream and
EPA regulations are forcing the use of this discussion "gas" means gases and downstream levels are almost identical
different types of air-pollution controls vapors. Adsorbents will handle -- that is, for a steady-
for fume hoods such as liquid hundreds of different compounds state/concentration airstream. This is
scrubbers, and gas-phase and including most VOC's but also have an rarely the case with laboratory fume
particulate filters. affinity for harmless species such as hoods. To prevent breakthrough the
water vapor. These adsorbents are also adsorbent must be either changed or
In this final article in a three-part used in process gas and compressed air regenerated. Regeneration involves
series, gas-phase and particulate fil- dryers for this reason. passing a clean airstream through the
tration systems will be discussed as bed, usually at an elevated temperature
well as some design hints, cautions and Their theory of operation appears to drive off the adsorbed vapors. And,
application information for these simple at first: they act like a sponge to what happens to these gases after they
devices. Liquid scrubbers were the remove target gases. This is where the are driven back out of the adsorbent?
topic of part II of this series, see simplicity ends, however. The They must be condensed, oxidized or
UPDATE Nov./Dec., 1993 issue for a problems associated with using these dealt with in some other expensive
detailed explanation of this technology. devices are typically caused by their fashion.
lesser-known characteristics that are An undesirable characteristic of
GAS-PHASE FILTRATION: rarely discussed in vendor literature. adsorbents is that once the target gas
Besides liquid scrubbers, there are has been adsorbed, it can also be re-
two other basic types of gas-phase As the air passes through the ad- leased or desorbed under normal op-
filtration schemes for fume hoods. sorbent bed, gases are removed in a erating conditions. For example, high
These are "inert" adsorbents and section of the bed called the mass concentrations of the target gas are
chemically active adsorbents. The transfer zone (MTZ). At the leading adsorbed onto a scrubber bed during an
"inert" variety includes activated car- (upstream) edge of the MTZ the ad- operation in a fume hood. This will
bon, activated alumina, and molecular sorbent is saturated, at the trailing create a "dirty" layer in the bed. If the
sieves. These substances typically (downstream) edge of the MTZ the hood continues to operate "clean," then
come in bulk forms for use in a deep adsorbent is "clean." As the bed loads as the clean air passes through the bed
bed, as well as cartridges, and panels up with gases, this MTZ propagates the gases start to desorb at the leading
for use in housings similar to particu- through the bed in the direction of edge of the bed, they are carried to the
late filter housings. They are usually flow. If the adsorbent is not re- end of the MTZ and hopefully re-
manufactured in the form of beads but generated or replaced, eventually the adsorbed there. Given enough time,
they may take many forms. The beads MTZ reaches the end of the bed. This the saturated portion of the bed and the
MTZ are pushed forward and out of adsorbent has an average affinity for actual destruction of the target com-
the bed. So much for pollution control. chemical A. Later, chemical B is used pound occurs. There is still a solid
This is why ductless "fume hoods" are in this same fume hood, for which the waste problem, but the media contains
considered by many to be unsafe. The adsorbent has a high affinity. As only a fraction of the level of the target
"filters" in them simply retain the chemical B passes into the bed it compound as an inert media would. A
contaminants for later release into the displaces chemical A which is either disadvantage of these types of
laboratory, or if already saturated, re-adsorbed downstream (if you're scrubbers is that if high concentrations
allow contaminants to pass through lucky) or is forced out of the bed of organics or hydrocarbons are carried
relatively unaffected. To prevent this, completely. This can also happen with into the bed, as would occur if a liquid
monitoring of downstream concen- ductless fume hoods which use panel were spilled in the hood, a large
trations of the target gas is necessary. or cartridge adsorbers with a very short exotherm will occur in the reaction
residence time and low-capacity. The zone of the bed (similar to the MTZ).
This desorbtion process has been process is similar to the hemoglobin This exotherm may cause a fire to
used successfully in the past when the mechanism in our blood, which has a occur in the scrubber. Because of this,
actual amount of target gas released to higher affinity for carbon-monoxide care should be taken when locating
the atmosphere was not an issue, but than oxygen. these devices and other downstream
the concentration was. There is a devices like particulate filters. Fires
midwestern chemical plant where re- It should be noted that adsorbents may occur in these devices at
search was done using a Mercaptan— have a different removal efficiency and surprisingly low temperatures due to
one of the smelly chemicals used as the saturation point for each different the catalytic action of the adsorbent
warning odor in natural gas. This compound and that this efficiency is matrix.
family of chemicals is not significantly not 100%. A certain concentration of
Both the inert and chemically active
toxic, but has an incredibly low odor gas will pass through the bed at all
types of adsorbent beds are used
threshold on the order of parts per times. The life of the adsorbent bed
successfully in certain applications
billion. The lab management was depends mostly upon its volume or
where proper precautions are taken to
concerned about the possible public mass and to a lesser extent upon its
deal with the undesirable characteris-
relations nightmare that would occur if shape which determines the air
tics mentioned previously and where
even a few grams of this liquid were velocity through the bed. Airstream
proper maintenance and monitoring are
spilled in a fume hood. The location of concentration of the target gas and
done. Frequent bed regenera-
the building was near the fence line of concentration of other non-target gases
tion/replacement (or both) may be
the plant and calculations revealed that (including water vapor) will also affect
necessary in some applications. Most
even with a well-designed stack of the capacity of the bed for the target
people have problems when these
reasonable height and reasonable gas.
systems are forgotten and not properly
discharge velocity that the odor outside
the fence line would be quite Chemically active adsorbents are
Remember that in each case, you
objectionable for some distance. Since simply inert adsorbents impregnated
are trading an acute air pollution
this compound smells like natural gas, with a strong oxidizer such as potas-
problem for a chronic one, or for a
the local gas utility would probably be sium-permanganate. Although there
solid-waste disposal problem. When
called to investigate. Eventually they are other oxidizers targeted to specific
spent adsorbent is reactivated, either
would discover the source of the odor compounds, the permanganates are the
accidentally in place, over time, or on
and blame it on the chemical company. most popular. The adsorbent part of
purpose, the target gas is desorbed
The answer to the problem was to the bed captures the target gas and
back out of the bed. Factories that are
install a carbon bed scrubber that was gives the oxidizer time to achieve a
in the business of regenerating
designed to catch the vapors from a reasonable destruction efficiency. The
adsorbent media usually oxidize the
spill and then release them over a long media in these beds is not eco-
desorbed material in a thermal oxidizer
period of time and at a low enough nomically reusable because the oxi-
also known as a TOX or incinerator.
concentration to avoid a public dizer is consumed over time. Down-
This solves the pollution problem -- or
relations problem. stream monitoring to detect break-
does it? No. You're now trading CO2
through or sampling of the media to
Another characteristic of adsorbents determine the remaining capacity of emissions for VOC emissions. Think
is that they have differing affinities for the bed should be done regularly. about it.
different substances. For example, an
adsorbent scrubber is used with a hood An advantage of the chemically PARTICULATE FILTRATION:
in which chemical A is used. The active beds over the inert beds is that
Air from fume hoods and biological
safety cabinets in which radioactive or
biologically active materials are used
should be properly filtered to remove
these agents so they are not released
into the atmosphere. Other hazardous
particulates may require this type of
treatment as well. The most popular
method of accomplishing this is by
using a HEPA (high-efficiency
particulate air) filter bank. These
HEPA filters trap at least 99.97% of all
particulates 0.3 microns or greater in
size. The engineering aspects of these
filters are relatively straightforward
and will not be covered here, but the
operational and maintenance aspects
must be given special attention. These
systems must be specified, purchased
and installed so that the filters can be
changed without exposing the worker
or the environment to the agents
trapped in the filter. Sterilizing the
filter bank is prudent before changing
filters that may contain etiologic
agents. Unfortunately, you can't do
anything to a filter contaminated with
radioactive material, however. In any
case a "bag-in, bag-out" method of
replacement should be used. Some
very clever engineers have designed
methods of using special plastic bags,
sleeves, tie wraps, and other devices to
change contaminated filters while
keeping the entire operation com-
pletely sealed. Consult your HEPA
filter manufactures for details on these

There are many types of pollution
control devices for laboratory fume
hoods. These include liquid scrubbers,
adsorbers, and particulate filters. Each
has unique engineering and operating
characteristics. Some of the
characteristics of these devices are not
well documented and special care
should be exercised when using them.
Like all aspects of laboratory facility
environmental control system design,
the application of these devices should
be done by an experienced engineer.