Coronavirus sharpens Las Vegas group’s mission to get air-purifying device into market

The Promethium team, from left, Chief Operating Officer Daniel Werth, Chief Technology Officer Devon Scheg and Chief Executive Officer Xavier Morgan-Lange pose for a photo in their lab, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020.

Well before COVID-19 became a household term, Xavier Morgan-Lange, Devon Scheg and Daniel Werth got started to formulate plans for an air purification device.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, which sent the idea for an air purification product that could be added to a commercial HVAC system into overdrive.

“We knew we wanted to do this in January of 2019,” said Morgan-Lange, a UNLV graduate. “When the coronavirus came around, that lit a fire under our butts to get it going and get it to market as soon as possible.”

Using a process that was discovered decades ago — photocatalysis, which converts solar energy into chemical energy — their product is designed to destroy airborne pathogens. Similar portable products that employ photocatalysis are already on the market, but they think they can make a better, more permanent product for large commercial venues.

Their company, Promethium Limited, was awarded $250,000 as part of a nearly $1 million UNLV Lee Business School contest for entrepreneurs to find ways to help the hospitality and entertainment businesses recover from the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

The contest attracted 250 applicants from 30 states and nine countries, with eight winners combining to collect a total of $975,000 to help get their ideas to market.

“We’re first and foremost looking at helping businesses open and helping our economy get back on track,” said Morgan-Lange, a Las Vegas native. “In Las Vegas, we’d be looking at furnishing our product for large venues like casinos, stadiums, hotels, live entertainment venues, you name it.”

It’s not only airborne viruses like COVID-19, however, that lurk in the air we breathe, Morgan-Lange said.

“Capturing and destroying something like the coronavirus is part of this, clearly a big part right now,” he said. “But it definitely goes beyond that. Right now, indoor air is anywhere from three to five times more polluted than outdoor air. If you take a place where smoking is permitted, like a casino, that adds to the pollution. We spend much of our time indoors, especially during the pandemic when people are spending so much time in their homes.”

There are other types of filters on the market that can combat COVID-19 and other pathogens — including high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters or activated carbon filters — but one of the issues with them is that they need to be changed periodically.

When a person changes the filter, that can disturb pathogens and potentially allow them to get into the air supply.

“Those types of filters are very effective at capturing COVID,” Morgan-Lange said. “With our product, we’re using the energy provided by light, as opposed to a powered chemical reaction. We’re destroying, we’re not capturing.”

Promethium Limited is working with researchers at Purdue University to design a final prototype that would be applicable for casinos or even, potentially, Allegiant Stadium.

The $250,000 will help the company secure needed warehouse space, where it can run more elaborate tests, Scheg said. Right now, the trio is working out of an office on Green Valley Parkway in Henderson.

“The money is going to enable us to get to market,” Scheg said. “The quality of the air we breathe is an incredibly big issue. We want it to be known that there needs to be a higher quality of air indoors, and we want to help businesses.”

Esther’s Kitchen owner James Trees knows how important it will be going forward to help make customers feel at ease. He recently purchased an ultraviolet light-enhanced air purification system for his restaurant.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure our guests and employees are as safe as possible,” Trees said. “You can drink water out of the tap, but if you have a purifier, it might taste a little better and might be a little healthier. We’ve taken the same approach for the air in the restaurant.”

The brainchild of Greg and Ernest Lee, trustees of the Ted and Doris Lee Family Foundation, and officials at the Lee Business School’s Troesh Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Lee Prize contest targeted ideas that will be able to come to market in 2021.

Winners of the contest were chosen by a committee that included Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley and MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle.

Those three alone control or help operate some of Las Vegas’ most recognizable buildings, including Allegiant Stadium, T-Mobile Arena, MGM Grand and the Bellagio.

Those are the types of venues that — Morgan-Lange, Scheg and Werth hope — could eventually house a Promethium system.


This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.