Project led by Nicole R. Demarquette, ÉTS Researcher
Improving the performance of integrated filters in N95 masks through the use of innovative materialsThursday, June 4, 2020
Can the effectiveness of N95 respirators be increased by improving the materials used in the composition of filters? That is the hypothesis proposed by Nicole R. Demarquette, a Professor-Researcher in the Mechanical Engineering Department at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS), and her team.
The filters that are currently integrated into N95 masks are essentially composed of polypropylene, polyethylene or polymer blends (bi-component fibres). They are designated as “N95” because they are able to filter out at least 95% of infectious aerosols, or airborne droplets.
Professor Demarquette believes that other polymers that possess antiviral and antibacterial properties could be used to produce these filters, and that it would also be possible to increase their effectiveness by applying new manufacturing processes.
According to Professor Demarquette: “By changing the composition of the membranes, among other things, we may be able to create filters that are even more effective than those that are currently on the market”.
More specifically, the goal is to decrease the size of the fibres used in the composition of the filters in order to reduce the size of the pores. Advances made in new manufacturing processes allow for reduction of the diameter of fibres to the point where they measure one thousandth of a millimetre, or even one ten-thousandth of a millimetre. The result would be pores that are 10 to 100 times smaller than what exists in the membranes currently used for the filters.
Electrospinning and blow spinning
Toward this end, Professor Demarquette plans to apply innovative techniques developed in the advanced materials sector, including electrospinning and blow spinning. Electrospinning allows for polymers to be formed through the use of high-voltage electricity. This technique is extremely useful in manufacturing synthetic or biobased polymer membranes composed of fibres with a diameter of between several nanometres and several microns. Blow spinning is a similar technique that relies on mechanical force rather than electrical voltage to form the polymers.
“Right now, it is still a research hypothesis. Over the next few months, we will see whether we are on the right track,” Professor Demarquette concludes.
This project is made possible by research funding under the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Alliance Grants program. The objective of this program, which was launched in 2019, is to encourage collaboration between university researchers and partner organizations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. ÉTS Professors Ricardo Zednik and Ilyass Tabiai are also involved in this project.
About Professor Nicole R. Demarquette
Nicole R. Demarquette has been a Full Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at École de technologie supérieure since 2012. For more than 20 years, she has been working on the development of polymer systems based on the fundamental concepts of rheology and thermodynamics. Her research interests focus on the development of new polymer materials and emerging manufacturing techniques, such as electrospinning, which produces non-woven materials for applications in the biomedical, energy and filtration sectors. In addition to authoring more than 130 articles in specialized journals and a number of book chapters, Professor Demarquette has supervised close to 50 graduate and post-graduate students. Her internationally recognized work has been carried out in partnership with numerous companies, and has contributed to the development of new materials, especially in the automotive and electronics sectors.