Dust-bj-1China’s CCTV Headquarter in Beijing on a Hazy Day

At the beginning of Christopher Nolan’s new blockbuster Interstellar, the earth has become an inhabitable dust bowl with lung-choking air. The terrifying dystopia depicted in the movie may cause anxiety in Chinese people, because it’s very similar to what we are experiencing now.

The worsening air quality has sparked a surge in the sales of air purifiers as people desperately try to protect themselves from the smog. The air purifier market size is expected to jump from RMB12 billion (around US$1.93 billion) in 2013 to over RMB20 billion in 2014 and 75 billion in 2015, according to research institute AVC.

The booming market has attracted many companies. Another AVC report noted that the number of domestic air filter manufacturers has soared 450%, from 21 in Q1 2014 to 95 in Q3 in the same year. Driven by the smart home trend, internet companies account for a substantial number of new entrants poised to compete with current incumbents like home appliance brands Philippe and Sharp, LightAir, and Yadu.

xiaomi-aMi Air Filter

Xiaomi released Mi Air Filter today. The device features an H11-level HEPA filter screen to fill a room with 406 cubic meters of clean air per hour (CADR). It claims to remove 99.99% of PM2.5 and 91% of methanol. It opened for pre-order on Xiaomi’s official site at an affordable price of RMB899, with replacement filters at RMB150.

BaomiBaomi Air Filter

Cheetah Mobile, though best known for its utility apps, unveiled its Baomi air filter this October. The device can detect and filter particles as small as 1.0 microns, the company claims. The device is priced at RMB998 (about US$163) and is expected to go on sale in November.

The newly listed Cheetah Mobile has been spun-off from Kingsoft, which Xiaomi holds a major stake in. It may sound odd that Cheetah Mobile and Xiaomi will compete by releasing similar products, but this may be a strategy to corner market share, in the same way that, for example, Bosch and Siemens also belong to the same parent company.

XiaodanXiaodan

Guokr, a Chinese popular science social networking website, released an egg-shaped air filter dubbed ‘Xiaodan’ (Chinese for ‘little egg’). According to the company, Xiaodan can remove 99% of PM2.5 and 95%+ of methanol in the air. The product is priced at RMB1,984 and has launched a crowdfunding campaign on JD.com.

 threepapasThreePapas

ThreePapas is an air purifier developer aiming to provide a safe breathing environment for children. The product is offered in two versions: an RMB4,999 purifier and a smaller RMB999 model. Those filters remove 99.99% of particulate matter and chemical pollutants from the air. It claims to use similar technology to foreign brands, like IQ Air, saying that the air released after filtering would be 100% PM2.5 free.

Other Chinese startups engaged in this field include Nervair and Fairair. The air problem has also triggered  a slew of air quality monitors like iKair, Airnut (a product developed by popular weather app Moji), and Haier Air Box.

Like other smart hardware, the above air purifiers and monitors can be synced with smart phones via dedicated apps, allowing users to check the PM2.5 figures inside their homes once they’ve installed the product.

The AVC report indicated that the most popular price range for air filters is RMB3001-4000. Most new air filter brands developed by internet companies have a price tag lower than this. Many customers will be lured by more affordable prices, but when it comes to health, product quality may be higher in the priority ladder.

Even if customers are willing to pay more for a better product, it is not an easy task to choose high quality air filters. The lack of a compulsory national standard has left users confused when choosing from products ranged from hundreds of RMB to over RMB50,000.

The fledgling field still needs greater regulation and transparency, with some air purifier makers having been criticized for inaccurately describing the capabilities of their products. One usual misleading practice is that most companies tout the maximum Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) of their product. As an indicator of  the efficiency of air filters, CADR is a figure measuring the cubic feet per minute of air that have had all the particles of a given size distribution removed. However, working to their maximum capacity will in turn generate 60db to 70db of noise (source in Chinese), which would be impossible in a comfortable environment. Hence the CADR value will be far lower if users keep the noise to reasonable levels.

image credit: Gz12315.org.cn

 

Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)