Hands-on Activity: Cleaning Air Like a Vacuum Cleaner: Let's Bag It

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A photograph shows the back of an upright vacuum cleaner with the plastic cover removed so that the soft, fabric cleaner bag is shown.
Students examine a vacuum cleaner model of a baghouse
copyright
Copyright © 2010 Albin Olsson, Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vacuum_cleaner_bag_in_vacuum_cleaner.jpg

Summary

Students observe and discuss a vacuum cleaner model of a baghouse to better understand how this pollutant recovery method functions in cleaning industrial air pollution.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Environmental and mechanical engineers are continually inventing new techniques to remove the air pollutants in industrial emissions. Baghouses capture more than 98% of the particulate air pollutants from steel mills, foundries and other industrial furnaces. They work very much like a giant vacuum cleaner: Heavy dirt particles fall out and are removed, and smaller particulates are trapped in filters (bags) made of cloth or paper. Engineers design home vacuum cleaners, too.

Learning Objectives

A diagram shows the factory air being pulled into filtration bags. Heavy pollutant particles are removed from the bag filters and dropped into a hopper. Clean air is released.
Figure 1. How a baghouse cleaning system cleans polluted air.
copyright
Copyright © 2004 Natalie Mach, ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe and explain how a baghouse works to control air pollution
  • Describe how engineers create technology to help industry clean up their air pollution.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals to hundredths, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method and explain the reasoning used. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Waste must be appropriately recycled or disposed of to prevent unnecessary harm to the environment. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop, communicate, and justify a procedure to separate simple mixtures based on physical properties (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

For a class demonstration:

  • vacuum cleaner with a clean filter bag
  • 1 cup soil (or something dirty to vacuum up)
  • scissors
  • How a Baghouse Cleans Polluted Air Diagram, a PDF suitable for an overhead projector transparency or student handout

Introduction/Motivation

Environmental and mechanical engineers are continually inventing new techniques to remove the air pollutants in industrial emissions. In this lesson, we have examined the use of water, static electricity and circular motion to help remove even tiny particles from polluted air. Can you think of any other ways to remove particles from the air? Another method designed by environmental engineers is a type of technology called a baghouse. A baghouse works a lot like a vacuum cleaner. Can you explain how a vacuum cleaner works?

Baghouses are used to control air pollutants from steel mills, foundries and other industrial furnaces, and can collect more than 98% of the particulates. Baghouses work very much like a giant vacuum. Heavy dirt particles fall out and are removed, and smaller particulates are trapped in filters (bags) made of cloth, paper or similar materials. Particles are shaken or blown from the filters down into a collection hopper. Refer to Figure 1 or the attached How a Baghouse Cleans Polluted Air Diagram.

Imagine a large vacuum cleaner suctioning particles out of the air. Would you want the bag material to be a loose weave or a tight weave? In a class demonstration today, we are going to look at how a baghouse works.

Procedure

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials.
  • Clear an area suitable for dirt to be spread and vacuumed.

With the Students

  1. Brainstorm with the students. Do you know how a vacuum cleaner works? What happens to the dirt once it is vacuumed up? Where does it go? Write student ideas on the chalkboard, paying particular attention to what they think happens to the suctioned materials.
  2. Ask the students if they think we could use some kind of vacuum cleaner to clean up polluted air. What would be needed for it to work? (Answer: A very fine filter.)
  3. Remove the clean filter bag from the vacuum cleaner so the students can see that it is clean. (Depending on the type of bag, you may need to open it for viewing and then reseal it.)
  4. Ask the students to record their observations during the activity.
  5. Sprinkle some soil on the floor and use the vacuum cleaner to clean up the mess.
  6. Remove the vacuum bag and cut it open to show the inside of the bag (see Figure 2).

Photos show a student cutting open a vacuum cleaner bag and finding dirt trapped inside.
Figure 2. Examining the inside of a vacuum cleaner bag, as part of understanding how a pollutant recovery baghouse works.
copyright
Copyright © 2003 Sharon Perez, ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

  1. Discuss student observations. Explain to the students that a baghouse is simply a fine filter that polluted (dirty) air is forced through as a way to capture the pollutants. This is similar to the vacuum cleaners used in their homes.
  2. In conclusion, ask the students the following questions and discuss as a class:
  • Does the baghouse remove all of the particulates? (Answer: No, not all of them. Baghouses are 98% efficient.)
  • How does this compare to the efficiency of a wet scrubber? Which one is better? (Answer: A wet scrubber is 94% efficient, so baghouses are more efficient).
  • If baghouses are more efficient, why would you ever want to use a wet scrubber? (Answer: It depends on the type of air pollution. Wet scrubbers work better on gases.)

Attachments

Safety Issues

  • Make sure students do not stick their hand or other large objects in the path of the vacuum cleaner.
  • Remind students to be careful with the scissors.

Troubleshooting Tips

If bringing the vacuum cleaner machine to the classroom is problematic, simplify the activity by bringing in two vacuum cleaner bags, one clean and one dirty, and cutting them open.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Brainstorming: As a class, have the students engage in open discussion. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Take an uncritical position, encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Have students raise their hands to respond. Write their ideas on the board. Ask the students:

  • Do you know how a vacuum cleaner works?
  • What happens to the dirt once it is vacuumed up? Where does it go?

Discussion Question: Ask the students if they think we could use some kind of vacuum cleaner to clean polluted air. What would be needed for it to work? (Answer: A very fine filter.)

Activity Embedded Assessment

Observations: Have students pay close attention and record their observations of the activity, explaining to them that this is what real scientists and engineers do. Instruct them to record anything that seems important.

Post-Activity Assessment

Observations: Discuss student observations.

Drawing/Journaling: Depending on the students' skill level, have them draw a picture or write in their own words a description of how a baghouse works to clean polluted air. Ask for volunteers to share their descriptions with the class.

Activity Extensions

Find local examples of baghouses and arrange a field trip. What pollutants does this baghouse remove? What do they do with the collected particulates?

Activity Scaling

  • This activity is appropriate for all age levels.
  • For upper grades, add a math component. Give students a number of particulates and have them calculate how many are cleaned out of the air using baghouses with 98% efficiency. (For example, if 100,000 particulates went through a baghouse, about 100,000 x .98 = 98,000 would be removed and 2,000 would remain.

References

Markle, Sandra. The Kids' Earth Handbook. Atheneum, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1991.

Contributors

Amy Kolenbrander; Sharon Perez; Janet Yowell; Natalie Mach; Gwendolyn Frank; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Copyright

© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: February 8, 2018

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