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Old plastic bottles may return as a face mask

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi (IIT) have developed a new way to create top quality face masks from recycled plastic bottles.

The pioneers used post-consumer polyethylene (PET) bottles to develop a single thin layer of non-woven nano-membrane that delivers the required particle filtration. This is said to achieve the same quality as a government-issued medical mask. The membrane contains fibres 250 times thinner than human hair, says Sumit Sinha Ray, assistant professor at the IIT’s engineering department.

This was achieved by a method called electrospinning – meaning the researchers shredded the plastic bottles and dissolved the flakes using a combination of solvents, after which they extruded nano-fibres from the solution.

A single thin layer of membrane used in the new masks can remove particles from the air at the critical size of 0.3 micron with more than 98% efficiency. These smallest particles are ‘the most difficult to catch,’ Ray notes. He hopes the innovative masks will ultimately replace commercially available melt-blown fabric ones.

‘Nano-fibres can do wonders for face masks,’ the academic insists. They can help masks filter out small particles effectively while allowing the wearer to breathe comfortably. Material costs at lab scale are around 30 cents per mask.

The IIT team has filed a provisional patent for the scrap-based solution. ‘We hope to find interested industrial partners to take this technology to large scale production,’ Ray says.

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