The EDF Group Foundation has joined forces with the Saint-Louis hospital's serious burns unit in Paris on a project to create the perfect environment for burns victims. The R&D department's research engineers have provided their expertise in modelling airflows, rendering them visible so that the risk of airborne contamination can be more effectively managed. Sharing technologies and adapting them can save lives.
Managing the risk of healthcare-associated infections for burns victims – Modelling airflows in hospitals
“Through the Foundation's support, EDF's R&D department has provided us with its expertise in using modelling so as to understand airflows – expertise that we have supplemented with our own understanding of treating burns. It is not enough simply to juxtapose this knowledge – we needed to further our mutual understanding, and that's exactly what we did!”
Professor Mauritius Mimoun
The whole project is based on one key fact: for a burns victim, there is a major risk of airborne contamination and it can often be fatal
Burns victims are extremely difficult to treat – there is a major risk of infection; treating them does not simply involve administering antibiotics – thought also has to be given to their environment, since air is one of the vectors via which bacteria and other infectious agents can be spread. Germs, transported by air currents, are deposited on various types of surfaces and on people.
Managing the risk of infection for a serious burns victim therefore partly involves managing the air circulating through their environment. To do that, that which is invisible needs to be made visible. That means modelling airflows in rooms, airlocks and corridors, so they can be seen and understood, and so that high-risk situations can be anticipated, the ultimate aim being to design structures and adopt behaviours for controlling the risk of airborne contamination.
The contribution of EDF's R&D department: digital modelling and expertise in aeraulics
Before the facilities of the new Saint-Louis hospital were designed back in 2004, EDF's R&D department became a research partner working with Professor Maurice Mimoun's team:
"When we were designing the new rooms for serious burns victims being treated at the hospital”, he explains, “we looked into the movements of airborne particles. They often harbour microorganisms which can contaminate particularly vulnerable burns victims – people who are highly sensitive to airborne contamination. Understanding how these particles move around inside a room, or even from one room to another, helped us design rooms that minimised the risks of airborne contamination. Since we were designing these highly modern rooms, continuing to operate using pen and paper was just unthinkable. The reality was that we needed computers and appropriate software for modelling these phenomena and studying them".
For 40 years, EDF's R&D department has been developing sophisticated expertise in digitally modelling airflows, particularly for its nuclear power plants.
Within the framework of its scientific expertise sponsorship initiative, Christian Beauchêne – an aeraulics research engineer at EDF’s R&D department – helped with the project, providing the team tasked with designing the new centre with special technologies and his expertise. Airflows are modelled using a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) calculation code – the Saturn Code – that has been used for more than 30 years to meet EDF's industrial needs – particularly for its nuclear power plants.
The skills sponsorship initiative involves more than just simply transferring technologies: it is based on sharing knowledge and expertise about very different environments. Working together in this way helps advance projects and adapt extremely high-performance tools so they can be used for specific purposes – purposes for which they were not originally designed.
"We noticed, that putting a person or an additional piece of equipment in the room completely altered the airflows, creating movements of potentially infectious particles”, said Professor Mimoun. “In particular, by working alongside EDF's researchers, we discovered the influence that temperature can have on this risk”.
A blowing ceiling to save lives
Opened in 2012 under the management of Professor Maurice Mimoun, the Saint-Louis hospital's serious burns unit in Paris is based on an innovative new concept: almost everything stays in the patient’s room. That way, they don't have to move them to a new environment during the acute phase of their burns treatment, limiting the risks of contamination. This means that all the equipment needed to treat the patient needs to be next to them in a room that is as decontaminated as possible, and one which serves as a place within which they can sleep, a recovery room, an operating theatre, a treatment room and even somewhere where they can undergo balneotherapy. Each room is for one patient only, and features a blowing ceiling. This protection barrier was the first fruit of EDF's contribution to supporting serious burns victims.
The blowing ceiling in particular has played a part in this world first, created in one of the new structures: saving a burns victim with 95% burns by carrying out a complete skin graft.
"Using a unique digital model developed chiefly for nuclear power plants and leveraging digital data gleaned from patients' rooms, we conduct a battery of tests and then determine the optimum configuration for the blower doors. We replace the existing doors with air curtains. That means that the patient's room can be accessed more easily, and the risk of incoming and outgoing contamination is prevented".
Pietro Berardara, director of the CEREA
The next stage of the project: blower doors
In light of these results, Professor Maurice Mimoun has continued with his efforts to improve the treatment available for serious burns victims and has come up with air curtains as a replacement for swing doors. These completely original "blower doors" would reduce the risk of contamination (particularly the risk of handborne infection via door handles) and would overcome the difficulties encountered by people working in serious burns units and intensive-care units. The idea is to bolster protection barriers, while at the same time ensuring that patients are always close to medical personnel.
In June 2018, within the framework of the skills sponsorship initiative, a new project* (the project is being run in partnership with the École Nationale des Ponts Paris Tech under the auspices of the CEREA) was launched with the EDF Group Foundation to confirm the suitability of blower doors as a replacement for existing doors. The purpose of studies undertaken by the CEREA (the centre for teaching and research into atmospheric environments – a joint laboratory set up by the École des Ponts ParisTech and EDF's R&D department) and the MFEE (Fluid mechanics, energy and the environment) division within EDF’s R&D department is to use digital modelling and expertise in aeraulics to design the air curtain and give consideration to its operation in the overall structure: room / airlock / corridor.
However, a number of studies will need to be conducted into this concept, ranging from defining the type of blowing system to integrating it into the airlock in place of the existing doors. Just as they played a part in the successful development of the blowing ceiling, EDF’s researchers will have the opportunity to develop expertise in understanding airborne contaminants and pollutants. Such expertise is in more and more demand by several of the company's business lines and subsidiaries – particularly in relation to air quality.