UBC researchers develop biodegradable medical mask for COVID-19

Vancouver, Canada - The worldwide shortage of medical grade masks have prompted University of B.C. (UBC) researchers at the university’s BioProducts Institute to develop what is believed to be the first fully compostable and biodegradable N95 medical mask and it is made from materials sourced in Canada.

“With escalating tensions during a pandemic, international supply lines for medical masks can break down, creating local shortages,” said researcher Johan Foster, a chemical and biological engineering associate professor at the university’s faculty of applied science and who has been involved in the development.

“When we decided to design a mask back in March, we knew early on we wanted a solution that uses local materials, is easy to produce and inexpensive, with the added bonus of being compostable and biodegradable,” he said.

The new mask - dubbed Canadian-Mask, or Can-Mask - ticks all those boxes, said Foster, who’s also the NSERC Canfor Industrial Research Chair in Advanced Bioproducts at UBC.

The mask frame is made entirely from B.C. wood fibres sourced from pine, spruce, cedar and other softwoods. One prototype uses a commercial N95 filter on the front of the mask, the other uses a filter specially designed by the UBC team from wood-based products. Both prototypes are currently being tested to ensure they meet health industry specifications for fit and permeability, with plans to apply for Health Canada certification in the near future.

Mask prototyping is nearly complete, and a shift to cost-effective scaling and production is in the plans.


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