NEW YORK - HVAC units provide dark, moist environments that can be perfect breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi leading to foul odors and decreased efficiency. To combat this phenomenon, the U.S. Department of Defense is funding research into antimicrobial copper components that can control the growth of organisms in HVAC units. The units are installed at the military barracks at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C.

Charles Feigley, Ph.D., professor of environmental health sciences at the University of South Carolina, and principal investigator for the study, explained the need for this research, stating, “Improvements in building and construction methods have generally led to increased energy efficiency, but at the same time, these ‘tighter’ building envelopes tend to trap bacteria, leading to odors. The results of this real-world trial should encourage advancements in the design of HVAC systems.”

The Fort Jackson trial is comparing the ability of antimicrobial copper HVAC components with commonly used aluminum components in controlling the growth of odor-causing bacteria and fungi in HVAC units. Components being replaced with copper are those in which microbial contaminants tend to thrive - cooling coils, heat exchange fins, and drip pans. The trial is designed to test the effectiveness of copper surfaces in inhibiting the growth of microbes which are not only the source of foul odors, but can also build up on heat transfer surfaces and compromise the thermal efficiency of the unit. In addition to being antimicrobial, the copper elements are said to be highly recyclable and better thermal conductors than their aluminum counterparts.

In conjunction with the field trial at Fort Jackson, a controlled laboratory study is taking place at the University of South Carolina in the Arnold School of Public Health. In addition to the trials, the Copper Development Association is pursuing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration of copper alloys for use in protecting HVAC components.

The copper cooling coils, heat exchange fins, and drip pans were manufactured by Luvata, a leading metal fabrication and component manufacturing company.

For more information, visit the Copper Development Association Website at

Publication date:08/10/2009