COVID-19: Development of Sustainable and Compostable Face Masks for Enhanced Protection Against COVID‑19 Virus Particles

Tam, Michael | $50,000

Ontario University of Waterloo 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

Almost all the N95 and surgical masks are produced with synthetic fibers, such as polypropylene (PP) fibers. The production and use of PP as disposable face masks will aggravate many of the problems associated with single use plastics, such as polyolefins and polystyrene. A new kind of face mask manufactured from engineered natural fibers offers a sustainable long-term solution, negating the same trap as when in the 1980s, society abandoned the use of paper bags for the ubiquitous plastic bags instead. On hindsight, this is now believed to be a major mistake that the world is trying to reverse. Thus, we should avoid making the same mistake with synthetic face masks.

This proposal seeks to upgrade forest and agriculture biomass and engineer them to produce protective masks to combat the Coronavirus pandemic.The proposed project will advance the development of a superhydrophobic paper system (SHP) or a paper-based mask (PBM) that is water repellant, antimicrobial, and has strong binding to negatively charged virus particles (VP). The SHP is prepared using a variant of paper making process, where the formulated Pickering emulsion (PE) consisting of modified cellulose nanocrystals, wax microparticles, and pulp fibers is passed through a blotting paper to form the SHP. The SHP displays a high water contact angle (>150 degree -a condition of superhydrophobicity) and low adhesion, such that water droplets and aqueous aerosols with COVID‑19 virus particles cannot adhere to its surface. Our group has the expertise and scientific knowledge to produce the PE, which is then processed using the paper making device to form the SHP. The SHP/PBM will be evaluated according to ASTM F2100 standard for medical grade masks, confirming their capability to prevent the VPs from reaching the human respiratory system (HRS). The PE formulation and production process can be readily scaled-up to produce large volume of the SHP/PBM for commercial applications.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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