By Genevieve Waldie
As COVID-19 continues to plague healthcare and hospital systems across the world, access to masks for frontline staff and vulnerable members of the wider community is an ongoing problem.
As well as supply problems, most masks are also hot and uncomfortable due to their low breathability, and are neither biodegradable nor recyclable.
A QUT (Queensland University of Technology) research team using bagasse (a waste pulp residue from sugar cane) to create a breathable material for face masks say they have designed a filter material that is simple to produce, biodegradable and effective against viruses.
Dr Tom Rainey and Dr Thuy Chu Van were working on a biodegradable filter material for use in anti-pollution masks. With the arrival of COVID-19 they have broadened their research to test the nano-particle removing material for efficiency against virus particles.
“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.
“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 the new material for breathability.
“The higher the breathability the greater the comfort and reduction in fatigue. This is an important factor for people who have to wear masks for long periods or those with existing respiratory conditions. Our tests showed the new material was more breathable than commercial face masks, including surgical masks.”
Bagasse is a biodegradable waste residue from sugar cane currently used in biofuels and building materials. As a cellulose fibre by-product of the existing commercial agricultural process, it is an environmentally friendly and cost-effective material available in large quantities.