Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most people weren’t as concerned with what’s floating around in the air they’re breathing. Tesla, however, has been thinking about it for a couple of years; citing World Health Organization data that shows more people dying from air pollution than car accidents. In 2016, Tesla introduced its Bioweapon Defense Mode in an effort to protect drivers’ lungs.
- Tesla created a Bioweapon Defense Mode for the Model X and Model S centered around a HEPA interior air filter.
- HEPA filters are the same technology used in hospitals and clean rooms and have shown to be one of the most effective methods of air filtration currently in use.
- It has been suggested that a Tesla could even keep you safe from coronavirus infection, which is mostly true.
Tesla tested its Bioweapon Defense Mode by sealing the car inside a bubble. Different particulate matter was dispersed inside the bubble and air quality was tested inside the car. (Photo: Tesla)
The origins of the Tesla Bioweapon Defense Mode began in 2015, with the introduction of a new HEPA filter in the Model X. Elon Musk touted it as 10 times bigger and 100 times more effective than traditional automotive interior air filters. The system has been updated over time and, as of January 2019, the latest version is available as an update to older Model S and Model X vehicles.
HEPA filters stop, mostly, everything
The acronym HEPA stands for “High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance.” The specification was originally created by the Department of Energy and the standards and testing procedures are maintained by the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology.
HEPA filters are 99.97% effective on dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and, to some extent, viruses. While most people probably think of filters as uniformly woven fibers, like a net, these are a complex pattern of electrostatic fibers that attract particles, and the function of a HEPA filter is closer to that of a magnet.
This graph demonstrates the size difference between common particulates. You can see how difficult it would be to stop viruses with normal filters because of their small size. (Chart: ALEN Corp.)
Is Tesla’s Bioweapon Defense Mode effective against coronavirus?
Viruses are tiny, an order of magnitude smaller than most germs or even smoke. The coronavirus is 0.3 microns in size; a human hair is roughly 25 microns wide.
ALEN Corporation, manufacturers of HEPA filters, has this to say concerning the capture of COVID-19: “Can air purifiers capture coronavirus? To a degree…Yes.” Sounds like an answer that plays it safe. The company adds, “A HEPA filter can technically capture a portion of airborne, virus-sized particles. But, NO air purifier can completely protect you from a virus.”
Being so small actually makes viruses slightly easier to capture in a filter. Micro-sized particles move around in what’s called Brownian Motion. They bounce around between all the other micro-sized particles like the mix of gas molecules that make up air. Think of how fast scents travel, even in a room of relatively still air. That zig-zagging movement makes it easier for the virus to get caught in the fibers of a HEPA filter.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Tesla is a company known for hyperbole, so when Elon Musk announced his cars are safe against bioweapon attacks, most of us winced. Remember the steel ball in the window? It is unclear what the software portion of the Bioweapon Defense Mode does besides activating air recirculation, but HEPA filter technology is certainly proven to protect against particulate matter. Will it protect you against an infected person coughing or sneezing directly into a Tesla’s interior air intake? Probably not, but that’s a pretty far flung scenario. Even if you aren’t 100 percent protected from COVID-19, it sounds as though your Tesla will certainly help with everything from smog to fellow commuters vaping.