Cloth face masks are especially in demand now. But are they really effective against coronavirus? Sadly, no. Ordinary cloth face masks cannot filter larger droplets containing virus because of the large pores in the material. However, with the shortage of commercial masks like surgical and N95 masks, people opted to use washable cloth face masks.

This problem motivated the team of Dr. Rey Capangpangan from Caraga State University (CSU) to develop a filter material that can be inserted in cloth face mask to efficiently filter out contaminants – the nanocellulose film which is sourced from waste materials.

The team embarked on the research project last March 27, 2020, and developed the prototype at the Material Science and Polymer Chemistry Laboratory in CSU, a funded project of the DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technologies Research and Development (PCIEERD). The lab serves as a facility, not just to researchers who are into materials development, but also to industries. The team’s current work is on cellulose biopolymer and saw the potential in developing a filter material from it and integrating nanotechnology. 

The team used paper wastes, acid, base, and bleaching reagents to produce nanocrystals then integrated with nanocellulose film to increase the filtering capability of the product. According to Dr. Capangpangan, the nanocellulose crystals can also be extracted from agricultural wastes such as pineapple leaves and water hyacinth.

Shredded paper wastes and trial tests of the film material

3D printed face mask produced by Caraga Fablab with the nanocellulose filter

The research is in collaboration with the College of Engineering and Geosciences (CEGS) and Caraga Fabrication Laboratory in CSU in developing 3D printed face masks. The lab also made a collaboration with Dr. Arnold Alguno from the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) for the nanocellulose extraction.

The nanocellulose filter will cost around Php15.00 per piece, while the 3D printed face mask will cost Php300.00 per piece. Costs can be lowered if mass produced. The face mask can be reused while the filter material can be sun dried before reusing. The team continues to modify and test the product for its longevity.

Results from the flame and wettability tests show that the nanocellulose filter performs as much as the commercial face masks. The research project does not aim to replace the masks used by health and medical practitioners but to provide innovation to effectively reduce the risk using nanocellulose films. 

The team targets to donate 100 3D printed face masks and 500 nanocellulose filters to police and medical frontliners in the region. For now, the laboratory is in need of raw materials and reagents to continue its production. For any donations – in cash or raw materials, and/or queries regarding the prototype, you can contact DOST-Caraga or the project leader, Dr. Rey Capangpangan at Caraga State University, Butuan City.

Dr. Capangpangan is an active member of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP).

Research team testing the material with CSU President Dr. Anthony Penaso

Written by: Aliana Gene E. Sarmiento, S&T Promotions Unit

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