Nanofibre facemasks provide a breath of fresh air
Deakin University’s Institute of Frontier Materials (IFM) has been working with Xinau Technology to develop a new type of nanofibre facemask that will replace traditional microfibre-based equivalents.
Air quality is on the decline in huge areas of the developed and developing world. The International Energy Agency attribute an estimated 6.5 million deaths per year to indoor and outdoor air pollution – it is reportedly the fourth largest threat to human health, after high blood pressure, dietary risks, and smoking. Pollutants that measure less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) are a particular concern, their small size means they are able to penetrate deep into the lungs.
Facemasks are now commonly used in heavily affected areas, but conventional microfibre masks either don’t provide the necessary filtration or block air ow too heavily, making it hard to breathe.
As “smog seasons” become a regular occurrence, cities such as Beijing are seeing a huge number of residents turn to expensive, high-end masks to help them breathe easy.
A team at the IFM are now using ANFF VIC’s electrospinning equipment to create nanofibre-based masks that are drastically better at stopping inhalation of PM2.5 particles and provide very little breath resistance. The pilot electrospinning machine is able to prepare 2-metre-wide nanofibre sheets in a continuous manner and has a production capability of up to 1,000m2 per day.
“When a layer of nanofibre nonwovens is inserted into conventional facemask, the breath resistance did not increase much, however, the capture efficiency for PM2.5 was significantly improved,” Professor Tong Lin, leader of the team at Deakin University, said. This means the team can make the filtering material thinner and more breathable, while still stopping up to 95% of airborne pollutants.
The key component to maintain high PM2.5 filtration efficiency is the nanofibre sheets, which are highly porous and have a large surface area.
“ANFF VIC’s needleless electrospinning machines at Deakin university made it possible to process large-size nanofibre nonwoven sheets with consistent structure,” Tong continued. “It also allows you to adjust the fibrous structure by changing the operating parameters such as voltage, spinning distance and polymer components.”
The team are currently working with Xinau to commercialise the technology.