Many artifacts are susceptible to degradation by oxygen. While it is well understood that objects made of synthetic materials may suffer in this way, it is also probable that the problem is very widespread in museum collections. For instance, delicate ethnographic materials or colorants may also be sensitive to oxidation. An approach to displaying or storing these sensitive objects is by using an oxygen-free environment. Advanced Oxygen Technologies Inc. (Alameda, CA) developed a technique for removing oxygen from air continuously using an electrochemical cell. This cell has the potential to deoxygenate showcases cheaply and efficiently.
In early 1994, Dr. Mark Gilberg, under contract from CCI, started testing a prototype of this device to determine if it could provide acceptable display conditions for sensitive materials. Initial results were very promising and very low oxygen levels were easily achieved.
However, the cell only functions in a humid atmosphere. By using humidification and drying tubes it was possible to operate a cubic meter space at 50% RH. With more sophisticated RH control units now available commercially, we hope that eventually a continuously operating RH and oxygen removal control module can be built.
Since the research commenced, Advanced Oxygen Technologies has ceased to develop the oxygen absorbing equipment. The actual cells, however, are still commercially available from the primary supplier (Giner Inc., MA).