Hackerfarm Launches Hyjeia, Offering Open Source Large-Scale UV-C Sterilization for SARS-CoV-2

Building on the earlier NukeBox and NukeMeter projects, Hyjeia offers low-cost, large-scale UV-C sterilization for N95 masks and other PPE.

Large-scale UV-C sterilization on the cheap: Hackerfarm's Hyjeia Project shows promise. (📷: Hackerfarm)

Chris "Akiba" Wang and colleagues at Hackerfarm have unveiled a large-scale decontamination system, aimed at stopping the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 disease it causes, based on a protocol developed by Nebraska Medicine: the Hyjeia Project.

Akiba began work on the project with two proof-of-concept creations last month: the NukeBox and the NukeMeter. The former was a home-made sterilization chamber based around off-the-shelf UV-C lamps, designed to make N95 masks and other protective equipment safe for reuse in the fight against COVID-19; the latter measured the intensity of the UV-C output, ensuring that the masks to be sterilized received the right dosage.

Now, the two technologies have been combined into the Hyjeia Project, an open source large-scale UV-C sterilization system. "Once we had the prototype system working, we got to thinking about how an actual system would be used," Akiba explains. "We decided to build the system around the protocol that’s already been published and released by Nebraska Medicine. This way, there’s already precedent set by a respected institution. Basing it on their protocol also lets other organisations skip over the trial and error process and build on a known working process.

"The Nebraska Med protocol uses two strong UV light sources, the Clordisys Torch. These sources cost $25,000 each which made it difficult to duplicate the protocol. The cost was inaccessible for many smaller institutions and businesses. The main focus was to duplicate the functionality of the equipment, even if we couldn’t match the light output. UV sterilization is based on dosage instead of intensity so even with weaker sources, we just need longer exposure times to sterilize. Another option is to put the source closer to the equipment that needs to be sterilized to increase the intensity."

The initial Hyjeia implementation, named for the goddess of cleanliness Hygeia, comes in considerably cheaper: "We built a simple wood frame with fluorescent light fixtures mounted to it and wired it up with four 40W UV germicidal tubes," says Akiba. "This forms the base of the UV light source and we purposely used widely available, common components such as 2×4 lumber and standard fluorescent light fixtures. The total build was slightly more than $100 although it included some fixtures we had lying around. A build using completely new light fixtures would be in the $150-$200 range."

Coupled with a dosimeter based on the same concept as the NukeMeter but with wireless connectivity and a cross-platform graphical user interface written in Processing, Hyjeia is ready for an initial release — but Hackerfarm's work isn't finished yet. "The goal of this project is to get decontamination systems to the people that need them," writes Akiba. "This means that we also have to set up the supply chains.

"We're currently discussing with open hardware manufacturers to assemble the wireless dosimeter design and make them available in their webshops. Out here, we have a small batch manufacturing assembly line, but it’s not geared for scale. If you have automated surface mount assembly equipment and are interested to help with assembly and distribution of the wireless dosimeter in your locale, please contact us so we can coordinate. We're also working with our purchasing agent and shipping agent in China to get UV germicidal bulbs from factories and ship them to where they are needed."

More information on the project, including how to contribute, can be found on Akiba's write-up and the official project page on the Hackerfarm website; all software and hardware designs, meanwhile, have been published to the project GitHub repository under a permissive BSD license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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