Virus-filtering mask material created from sugarcane waste

Monday, 20 April, 2020

Virus-filtering mask material created from sugarcane waste

A new material created by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) scientists has proven to effectively remove particles smaller than 100 nanometres, a measurement in the range of a virus.

QUT process engineer Dr Thomas Rainey and his research team are stepping up work on the nanoparticle-removing material that, prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, was being developed for biodegradable antipollution masks. With the urgent global need for effective personal protective equipment, the team focused their investigations on the material’s ability to remove virus-size nanoparticles.

“We have developed and tested a highly breathable nanocellulose material that can remove particles smaller than 100 nanometres, the size of viruses,” Dr Rainey said.

“I see many people wearing masks which are not tested for viruses. 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.”

Dr Rainey said the team also tested for breathability, finding that the new material was more breathable than commercial face masks, including surgical masks.

“By breathability we mean the pressure or effort the wearer has to use to breathe through the mask. The higher the breathability the greater the comfort and reduction in fatigue,” he said.

“This is an important factor for people who have to wear masks for long periods or those with existing respiratory conditions.

“This new material has excellent breathability, and greater ability to remove the smallest particles.”

Dr Rainey explained that the material could be used as a disposable filter cartridge in face masks.

“This material would be relatively inexpensive to produce and would therefore be suitable for single use.

“The cellulose nanofibre component is made from waste plant material such as sugarcane bagasse and other agricultural waste products, and is, therefore, biodegradable. It can be made using relatively simple equipment, and so we can quickly produce large quantities of the material.”

The team has established proof of concept for the nanoparticulate filtration material and is currently seeking industry partners.

Image credit: © Moonsawad

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