COVID 19 – Superhydrophobic Microfiber Outer Layer for Facemasks to Decrease the Airborne Transmission of Human Pathogens

Park, Chul | $50,000

Ontario University of Toronto 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

This project proposes to cost-effectively modify mask outer layers from hydrophilic (to which respiratory aerosols/droplets adhere) to hydrophobic (repelling respiratory aerosols/droplets), to increase the lifespan of the masks dramatically. The current shortage of the N95 grade (and non-N95 grade) masks mainly comes from the short lifespan of the masks. Masks typically have 3 layers. The two outer layers have a microporous structure that filters aerosols/droplets greater than 1 µm, while providing the mechanical strength required for maintaining the proper geometry of the mask. The outer layers of most masks are hydrophilic, and therefore large respiratory aerosols/droplets typically stick to the surface of the outer layers. These respiratory aerosols/droplets remaining on the outer surface of the masks can be a contaminating source and often decrease the lifespan of the masks. This project proposes to overcome this deficiency by imparting a superhydrophobic nature to the mask surface to repel any respiratory aerosols/droplets larger than 1 µm. In this way, the mask can stay clean for a longer period.

Since time is of the essence in the current situation, the development of an implementable technology will be prioritized over relevant fundamental research in this project. In addition to the lab-scale investigation, the small-scale-verified technology will be further tested on a pilot-scale spunbond system. This would substantially speed up the technology transfer to the industry (Myant Inc.), which is critically important at this moment because Canada is in acute demand for reliable facemasks due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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