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More materials innovation needed to meet demand for face masks / Fastest growth in coatings / Lux Research report
As the wearing of face masks looks to become the norm due to the coronavirus pandemic, more materials innovation is required as demand continues to increase, according to US research firm Lux Research (Boston, Massachusetts; www.luxresearchinc.com). In its latest report, “Mask Up: The Rising Need for Material Innovations in Face Masks”, Lux said further development is needed across two areas: new materials and end-of-life improvements, including reuse, recycling or biodegradable options. The report breaks down new materials into four categories: bio-based, those from 3D printing, resuable, and coatings.

Lux said that bio-based and biodegradable products may be attractive from a sustainability point of view, but they may lack the performance or durability required, limiting their potential. In addition, while 3D printing provides an alternative and repeatable production method, it is a slow and expensive process, making scaling difficult.

The BioProducts Institute at the University of British Columbia is working to develop a compostable and biodegradable N95 face mask (Photo: University of British Columbia)
The best option from an end-of-life perspective is reusable material (apart from cloth), and Lux said the most interesting developments are centred on silicone as it is easy to sterilise. The fastest growth area of innovation is, however, being seen in coatings, specifically antimicrobial and antiviral for both masks and apparel.

Current research efforts include work at the BioProducts Institute of the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, British Columbia / Canada; www.bpi.ubc.ca), which is designing an N95 face mask using wood fibres. This type of mask, with its N95 filtering respirator, is usually made of nonwoven polypropylene. The researchers claim the mask would be fully compostable and biodegradable. However, it will likely need coatings to improve its performance and meet the required minimum standards as pulp materials typically degrade quickly.

Another team at New York University Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates; www.nyuad.nyu.edu) has developed PLA-based 3D-printed N95 masks based on World Health Organization (WHO) specifications, claiming they are recyclable and reusable.

Lux added that there has been a rapid shift in business models and supply chains to meet the surging demand for face masks, with a big focus on increasing local production to mitigate delays in sourcing from overseas. Many companies have used existing infrastructure and access to raw materials to produce face masks and PPE. Some are quickly adding the necessary facilities, while others are developing new technologies and alternative materials/masks. The demand for face masks has been sudden and is growing rapidly, said Lux, but the pandemic and the changes to consumer habits are not going away anytime soon.
04.01.2021 PIE [246588-0]
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Date of print: 16/01/2021
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