By Gregory Daurer | Jan 23, 2020
UV sterilization systems
"We have different products for different challenges," says Dame. A high-rise building in India might want to use an ultraviolet (UV) light setup within its HVAC system to prevent tuberculosis and avian flu from infecting the people inside the structure.
Or a hospital might prevent germs from spreading onto surgical equipment utilizing UV light. An ambulance might carry a germicidal light under a seat to protect immuno-compromised passengers -- as well as the attendants.
And a cannabis grow might incorporate Sanuvox's UV GrowSaver system to stop the spread of powdery mildew and botrytis, which can ruin crops; Sanuvox also sells other lights that mitigate odors from the air leaving the building.
Dame points out that ultraviolet lights were first used in water treatment facilities to kill bacteria in 1905. By the 1990s, ultraviolet lamps were being marketed to homeowners as a way to protect families molds and allergens; but those first commercial lights were often crude and ill-equipped for the scope of the challenge, says Dame.
Sanuvox started in 1995 after its founder, Normand Brais, was asked to examine an ultraviolet lamp by a friend who was playing within the same non-professional hockey league. Brais' acquaintance was thinking about distributing the lights in Canada.
Brais, a nuclear engineer and professor at Polytechnique Montréal, pointed out the flaws in the design and suggested improvements: For instance, the lamp should have reflectors to increase its efficiency, and it should be mounted in air ducts parallel to the air flow, not facing it, in order to improve the light's ability to kill offending molds and bacteria.
Rather than go through with the distribution deal, Brais' acquaintance convinced Brais to co-found Sanuvox -- an acronym which stands for "sanitation, ultraviolet, and oxidation."
Today, says Dame, Sanuvox ultraviolet systems are presently in use in "over 300 hospitals" throughout the world -- although the lion's share of its business comes from servicing commercial buildings.
But medical facilities and high-rises aren't the only structures making use of ultraviolet light. Dame says, "We have [completed] over 200 installs in the last 24 months -- all cannabis related." He adds, "Our sales have grown to a point that 25 percent of our business volume is related to cannabis." Today, the company has salespeople based in Colorado, Missouri, Maryland, and Washington State, as well as in Calgary, Ontario, and Quebec.
Dame says Sanuvox unwittingly entered the cannabis space around 2000 -- long before legalization was even on the horizon. That's when the company discovered that distributors had been supplying Sanuvox equipment to installers who ultimately wound up equipping black market grows. Dame says, "[Law enforcement] would raid a facility and we would see our Sanuvox equipment inside a facility" on Canadian newscasts.
Now that some US states and Canada have allowed legal cannabis sales, Sanuvox actively assists cannabis growers to prevent fungi like powdery mold and botrytis through its "biowall" system. A series of UV lamps are placed into ductwork, according to performance calculations made by software designed by Brais. "The design, the orientation of the lamp, the sizing software, and the dosage [of light] -- these four things together makes up a successful install and result.," explains Dame.
The software calculates the amount of light that's needed to kill the offending fungus, taking into account the size of the ducts and the amount of times the air circulates through the HVAC system per hour. Sanuvox's website says, "Performance objective is to disinfect the air of Powdery Mildew and Botrytis within the space at a rate of 95 percent or higher every hour the unit is operating. This disinfection rate is based on eight to 12 air changes per hour."
Sanuvox uses bulbs made in the U.S. -- not China, as Dame is quick to point out -- and the company has had some larger bulbs specially made to its own specifications. But the actual assembly of over 20 different products takes place at its 18,000-square-foot facility in Montreal. Some of the devices are meant to be installed into air ducts, some are standalone fan units for use within spaces without air ducts.
As a result of Sanuvox's UV equipment for combating powdery mildew, some cannabis growers just might be able to breathe easier about the health of their crops. Additionally, Dame says, he gets personal satisfaction from "a homeowner calling me up and saying, 'My allergies are gone. . . . We don't have breathing problems.' The little things are what makes the day good for me, as far as I'm concerned."
Challenges: Competing with "fly-by-night" companies who offer a "magic lantern" to would-be customers.
Additionally, there's the claims made by some marketers of LED lights; Dame says, "The incandescent light bulb, called the neon, is still the best bang for your buck. The LED is not powerful enough."
Opportunities: New markets springing up in a variety of industries. If cannabis is now being legalized, who knows what will be regulated in the future? Sanuvox aims to provide "a clean room [environment for] all these facilities," says Dame.
Needs: Further standardization and regulation: "The industry of ultraviolet, sadly enough, is not regulated as it is for the filter industry." To have UV lights regulated like NAFA regulates HEPA filters would be a welcome addition, says Dame.