COVID 19-Scalable Production of Mechanically Resilient Biocidal Face Masks from Ultrafine Nonwoven Fibers

Park, Chul | $75,000

Ontario University of Toronto 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

This proposal is about the exciting possibility of making the filtration materials found in N95-respirators and surgical face masks mechanically resilient and able to denature infectious pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

This research is important because of several reasons. First, the filtration materials found in masks are typically made via the process of melt blowing. Melt-blown filters are delicate and tend to get damaged when deformed (e.g. stretched). If we can make these filters mechanically robust, their lifespan will increase as they will be less likely to get damaged.

Second, captured pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, can live on the surface of these filters, feeding off of the organic nutrients also captured by them. As a result, these filters often become ‘breeding grounds’ for pathogens. If these filters are not disposed of properly, they can be a secondary source of airborne transmission. By making these filters exhibit biocidal activity, these filters will not only capture infectious pathogens but also deactivate them completely, eliminating this risk of secondary transmission.

Finally, the method of producing high-quality filtration materials found in commercial face masks is poorly understood. This is because the design and engineering principles required to produce these filters at an industrial-scale are kept as trade-secrets within a handful of companies who dominate production. By filling this knowledge gap, Canadian companies will also be able to produce these filters, decreasing our reliance on imports to meet local demand. This will improve the preparedness of Canada to meet a sudden surge in demand for face masks in case of another outbreak. Furthermore, improvement in mechanical performance and biocidal activity will create competitive advantages over current commercial alternatives.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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