Reusable N95 mask developed by U of L researchers

Image courtesy:  The University of Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Researchers at the University of Louisville are trying to build a better mask.

According to a news release, scientists at the University of Louisville's Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research and the Advanced Manufacturing Institute of Science & Technology hope to develop and patent a new N95 mask that more effectively filters airborne particles and viruses, such as COVID-19 droplets.

The project is part of a partnership between the center and Advanced Energy Materials, LLC, a company that specializes in creating catalysts for the removal of sulfur. 

Conventional N95 masks can't be reused without extensive decontamination procedures, but the masks developed by U of L researchers utilize nanofilter technology, and can be easily washed, dried and reused.

The new masks use inorganic nanowire technology, combined with woven polymer cloth. The combination creates a porous network with openings that are too small for viral particles to pass through, according to the news release. It is a different filtering method than more conventional masks, which utilize an electrostatic charge on polymer fiber cloth to capture particles such as dust, mold and pollen -- a method that may not be as effective against liquid droplets or viral pathogens.

According to U of L, the new masks can be disinfected using a low energy UV light source, a method that can help reduce costs of PPE in hospitals.

Ed Tackett, director of workforce development at the Advanced Manufacturing Institute of Science & Technology, says it's important for the state to be able to manufacture its own N95 masks.

"We are all working together to keep the rate of incidence low, but that also means we will have difficulty in priority purchasing for PPE since Kentucky isn't a hotspot," he said, in a statement. "Our solution is making them here instead of buying elsewhere."

Prototype testing of the masks is underway. Funding for the project has been made possible by Hank and Rebecca Conn, benefactors of the Conn Center. The gift is intended to be matched by donors who want to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

"It is the right thing to do," said Hank Conn, in a statement. "Conn Center technologies are intended for renewable energy but can impact the immediate health crisis. We are giving this innovation early support that it may reach a commercialization partner for the good of us all."

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