Anders Sundvik. Photo: Dimitrijs Alehins

Anders Sundvik. Photo: Dimitrijs Alehins

12 Jun 2014

Camfil: Clean air should be a human right

“Our business is all about energy efficiency, safety and health”, says Anders Sundvik, VP for Research and Development at Camfil AB, a global air filtering giant with an annual turnover of slightly over half a billion euros, based in the small Swedish village of Trosa. Camfil has an ambitious plan to expand by at least 50% over the next five years and save terawatt-hours of energy for its customers.

The size of today’s global commercial air filtration market is only a few billion euros. It is still in its early days and lacking standards, as regulations concerning the quality of indoor air are not yet carved in stone, even in the most developed countries.

“We believe that the right to breathe clean air is a basic human right. Air filtration is not just about producing clean air it is about protecting people’s health”, says Anders Sundvik from Camfil.

The company was established half a century ago as a family-owned enterprise (which it still is) and since the 1960s has grown into a global leader in air filtration with a presence in over 50 countries. Camfil employs approximately 3,700 people at 26 production plants in Europe, North America and East Asia and a number of sales companies and agents around the globe. Camfil Group’s annual sales were close to EUR 550 million last year.

“Very few Swedish companies of our size have a similar scale of worldwide operations”, says Mr Sundvik.

Small giant

Small in terms of numbers and figures on the global scale, Camfil has very few large competitors in the key segments of air filter markets, such as comfort filtration (solutions for individual consumers, offices, etc.) and various industrial solutions, from heavy dust and power filtration for gas turbines to air sterilisation for microbiology laboratories and the like.

“The air filter market is very local. It’s built on personal relationships. When you buy air filters for your building, you go to the closest vendor, who often happens to be a small local ‘garage’ entrepreneur in your neighbourhood. So we make every possible effort to act local but stay global wherever we operate”, says Mr Sundvik.

Camfil has very little doubt what its competitive edge is. The company offers high-end products for smart air filtering and would not be competing on price with the “garage” filter manufacturers.

“Our competitive edge is being at the forefront of technological innovation in the industry”, continues Mr Sundvik.

“Selling high-quality air filters is tough. Clean air is an invisible product. No one would be able to tell how polluted the air we are breathing actually is without measuring and monitoring it. We help our customers visualise clean air.”

Visualise before breathing

To help its customers visualise the air they breathe, Camfil has built mobile laboratories for monitoring and measuring the levels of dust particles and concentrations of gases and contaminants in the air on customer sites.

Together with Stockholm University, Camfil has been measuring the carcinogenicity of particle levels and gas contamination on one of the busiest streets in the Swedish capital city. Another research is underway measuring the quality of the air inside an apartment on the same street before and after the installation of air cleaning equipment. The results of the research will be presented to the public during Almedalen Week (an annual political and social advocacy event in Sweden).

“I’m sure that measuring the levels of particles and gas components inside our homes will soon be as simple as measuring air temperature today”, says Mr Sundvik

Tech Center

Mobile laboratories are only a small fraction of Mr Sundvik’s domain—Camfil Research and Development. The company will invest about EUR 50 million over the next five years for both R&D and production process development. Half of it will be spent in Trosa—the home turf where Camfil was established half a century ago—and the other half will go to ten R&D units in the US, Canada, Sweden, Germany, France, China, India and Malaysia.

In 2012, the group added a state-of-the-art R&D campus, the Tech Center, to its Trosa manufacturing base. The 2,500 square metre Tech Center is one of the largest R&D centres in the world for the development of air filters, clean air solutions and filter production technology. The facility employs 35 specialists and is equipped with the latest laboratory technology to analyse air and develop high-performance filtration products and systems.

Half cleaned means half dirty

Mr Sundvik continues:

“Our focus is sustainability, health and lowest possible operational cost.”

“Imagine a glass of dirty water. If a water filter cleans only 50% of the dirt in your glass, would you drink that water? Probably not. You would like that water to be purified 99.5%. But for air we are settling for half now, because this is what we can usually afford with today’s technology.”

To remove at least 50% of particles from the breathable air in new and reconstructed buildings will be the requirement of a new European Union directive expected to come into force during 2015. The directive will be the first compulsory regulation ever adopted to protect us from bad air inside buildings.

“More and more people are investing in their health. So it’s just a matter of time until people start understanding the importance of clean air. Every day, each of us eats approximately one kilo of food, drinks three kilos of water, and breathes from fifteen to twenty-five kilos of air. There are a lot of ways to improve the quality of what we breathe. This is an untapped new market.”

Twenty per cent

Indeed, smart ventilation and cooling of buildings demand a lot of energy. An average commercial air filter—the one leaving your air half cleaned—consumes approximately as much energy as five domesticfridge freezers. Should you wish to clean more, just add more freezers to your calculation.

“The current level of air filter performance is a compromise between efficiency and energy consumption. Our future goal is to increase efficiency while keeping energy consumption at lower levels”, continues Mr Sundvik.

“If we manage to reduce the energy consumption of our filter by just one percent, the aggregate effect of energy savings for our customers would total approximately 150 GWh a year.”

This much saved energy may be enough to light up a small European town, all its flatscreens and fridges, for one year.

Camfil is aiming at a 20% reduction in the energy consumption of its filters. The impact for the economy as a whole would be measurable in hundreds of millions of euros, and of course terawatt-hours of saved energy.

From low-tech to high-tech

Energy savings would most probably come from a breakthrough in the materials used for air filters as well as a shift from low-tech to high-tech product content. Camfil’s pursuit of lower cost and higher efficiency of filter material has recently been benefitting from joint research projects with engineers from the Finnish VTT Technical Research Centre.

“New nanofibre technologies are showing a high performance potential for making the next generation of highly energy efficient filters. This will require that we research new and existing materials, and develop combinations of materials to create new hybrids addressing specific customer needs”, says Mr Sundvik.

“When it comes to high-tech product content, it will most likely be built on sensor technology that will allow for variable, situation-based air filtration, thus saving a lot of energy.”

Here is where visualising your air comes in again.

“Monitoring the quality of the air is at the heart of new energy saving technologies”, says Mr Sundvik.

To finance the company’s ongoing efforts to improve the efficiency of smart air filtering, Camfil and NIB signed an eight-year, SEK 220 million (EUR 25 million) loan in December 2013.

The company is also catering for a broader technology spill-over effect in the industry:

“We advise on quality and environmental management standards directly or through trade organisations. Our experts participate in professional committees and work groups”, says Mr Sundvik.

Camfil is leading the standardisation work in many areas of air filtration. Raising standards for air filtration and safety in buildings and industries contributes to the maturity of the market and benefits the business.

“Our job is to simulate the clean air environment we as humans need to thrive. If we can create a cleaner environment for people who spend 90% of their lives indoors, which is true for most of us, we believe we are doing something good to this world”, Mr Sundvik concludes.

 

Related resources

Press Release

20.12.2013

NIB finances Camfil AB’s R&D programme