Due to the anxiety about supplies of protective equipment to guard against coronavirus, with The Reseracher from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), have found a perfect method to produce medical-grade mask materials which is a nanocellulose membrane made out of agricultural waste such as sugar cane mulch. This new material is very effective at removing particles smaller than 100 nanometres, which is in the range of a virus, easier to breathe through than high-quality face masks which is important for people with existing respiratory issues including quickly made in large quantities using simple equipment and, it is biodegradable.
Scientists around the world are scrambling to adapt their research to find solutions to the many problems raised by the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world, not the least being a face mask shortage. So, QUT process engineer, Dr. Thomas Rainey and his research team are stepping up work on a nanoparticle-removing new material they were developing for biodegradable anti-pollution masks. This material is able to filter out particles at the scale of 100 nanometres, which is in the range of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.
“We have tested this material thoroughly and found it to be more efficient in its ability to remove virus-size nanoparticles than the high-quality commercially available masks we tested and compared it with, This material would be relatively inexpensive to produce and would therefore be suitable for single-use” he said.
Dr. Rainey also said the major benefit of the nanocellulose material was that while it had taken a long time to perfect, it is easily able to be manufactured at large quantities. They are now working to secure a manufacturer to turn the material into masks and a supplier to provide the raw agricultural waste to be converted.
The research team started their development of the material in 2014 when they were trying to develop disposable filters for diesel engine exhausts. By around 2017 it became clear that the material we had was more suitable in a thin layer, which was more compatible with face masks and other PPE. They then tried to develop anti-dust masks for use by firefighters, before realising the very fine level of filtration the material allows made it perfect for medical masks.
The past few years have been spent testing various thicknesses and configurations of the material, until they now have something that can be manufactured at scale. The material is also more “breathable” than current medical face masks, the researchers claim, which is the measure of how easy it is to breathe through the protective layer. Because it is made out of plant material, it is also biodegradable, although because of the process used to make it is is not able to be refashioned into new masks.
Compounding the issue is the fact that the majority of PPE is manufactured overseas, with state and federal governments now moving to secure domestic supply chains. The Queensland government recently gave south-east Queensland manufacturer Evolve a $1.2 million grant to begin production on N95 medical masks, with the promise of thousands a day by the end of April. It comes as the World Health Organisation last month called on all countries to lift their PPE production by at least 40 per cent to meet the demand over the course of the pandemic.