A Titanate Nanowire Mask that can Eliminate Pathogens EPFL Labs

nano wire mask atitanatenan

Filter ‘paper’ made from titanium oxide nanowires is capable of trapping pathogens and destroying them with light. This discovery by an EPFL laboratory could be put to use in personal protective equipment, as well as in ventilation and air conditioning systems.

As part of attempts to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, paper masks are increasingly being made mandatory. Their relative effectiveness is no longer in question, but their widespread use has a number of drawbacks. These include the environmental impact of disposable masks made from layers of non-woven polypropylene plastic microfibres. Moreover, they merely trap pathogens instead of destroying them. “In a hospital setting, these masks are placed in special bins and handled appropriately,” says László Forró, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Physics of Complex Matter. “However, their use in the wider world—where they are tossed into open waste bins and even left on the street—can turn them into new sources of contamination.”

Researchers in Forró’s lab are working on a promising solution to this problem: a membrane made of titanium oxide nanowires, similar in appearance to filter paper but with antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Their material works by using the photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide. When exposed to ultraviolet radiation, the fibers convert resident moisture into oxidizing agents such as hydrogen peroxide, which have the ability to destroy pathogens. “Since our filter is exceptionally good at absorbing moisture, it can trap droplets that carry viruses and bacteria,” says Forró. “This creates a favorable environment for the oxidation process, which is triggered by light.”

The researchers’ work appears today in Advanced Functional Materials, and includes experiments that demonstrate the membrane’s ability to destroy E. coli, the reference bacterium in biomedical research, and DNA strands in a matter of seconds. Based on these results, the researchers assert—although this remains to be demonstrated experimentally—that the process would be equally successful on a wide range of viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

Their article also states that manufacturing such membranes would be feasible on a large scale: the laboratory’s equipment alone is capable of producing up to 200 m2 of filter paper per week, or enough for up to 80,000 masks per month. Moreover, the masks could be sterilized and reused up a thousand times. This would alleviate shortages and substantially reduce the amount of waste created by disposable surgical masks. Finally, the manufacturing process, which involves calcining the titanite nanowires, makes them stable and prevents the risk of nanoparticles being inhaled by the user.

A start-up named Swoxid is already preparing to move the technology out of the lab. “The membranes could also be used in air treatment applications such as ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as in personal protective equipment,” says Endre Horváth, the article’s lead author and co-founder of Swoxid.


Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology working to spray away COVID


What if you could spray away COVID-19?

That’s the idea behind an anti-viral surface coating being developed in a collaborative project between by researchers at The Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) within the University of Waterloo and SiO2 Innovation Labs.

The coating will kill the COVID-19 virus immediately upon contact with any surface.

According to Dr. Sushanta Mitra, Professor of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering and lead researcher on the project.

“The COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces for 24 hours or more. In order to protect front-line workers and the general public, it’s important that the virus be neutralized immediately when it comes into contact with any surface. Our work will culminate in the production of an anti-viral coating that will do just that.”

                                                                     Dr. Sushanta Mitra


This research is multi-faceted and is being conducted by many different researchers at Waterloo, including chemical engineering professor Boxin Zhao and chemistry professor  John Honek.

In a recent interview, Mitra said he thinks it will be six or seven months before preparations can be made to bring the product to market and he notes the huge advantages of working with SiO2 Innovation Labs, whose commercial and industrial coatings are made here.

“They already make materials to kill pathogens such as e-coli, they make anti-bacterial and anti-microbial coatings … We want the product to be made in Canada to help Canadians fight COVID, and hopefully make it available to the global community,” said Mitra.

In a release from SiO2 Innovation Labs, CTO Bruce Johnston said: “We’re thrilled to be collaborating with Professor Mitra and WIN in order to bring to market a surface coating that can neutralize pathogens quickly and their subsequent spread. Reduced infection rates will save lives and create safer environments in public and private spaces including homes, the work place, schools, stores, public transit and hospitality venues.

“Our history of creating and delivering safe, sustainable and environmentally friendly products is enabling us to meet this historic moment.”

Mitra’s research involves droplet transmission, viral load and interaction with various surfaces. The coating being developed will prevent droplet adherence even as it destroys the virus’ envelope — the lipid membrane — “because when you destroy that, you destroy the virus.”

Most of us learned about the virus ‘envelope’ from the information about the importance of hand-washing, soap being a surfactant.

The plan will be for the anti-COVID-19 material to be available in different forms, as a coating and also in spray or dip coat format.

Health workers can spray it on personal protective equipment (PPE) to repel (and destroy) viral droplets from masks or gowns; the coating can be used on door handles and high touch surfaces and floors.

“Once the economy is reopened and people go back to work, you’ll need this kind of coating,” said Mitra. “Clearing surfaces all the time is labour-intensive, but the coating lasts a long time.”

Do they have much competition for this product from other scientists?

“There are others working on similar products, and that’s good. There are eight billion people on this planet and we can’t meet the entire demand.”

As regards COVID-19, Mitra said: “The global effort is critical. We learn from each other, and that includes on a vaccine. We are all working to push as much knowledge as possible into the public domain.”

Mitra reminds us that The Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology — which is Canada’s largest nanotechnology institute — is committed to UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“And one of the stated goals of the United Nations is good health for everyone,” he said. “This is our small effort in that direction.”

Scientists create ‘most effective anti-coronavirus spray’

Coronavirus cases continue to climb, with 120,000+ cases and 4,000+ deaths confirmed around the world. Now a revolutionary spray has arrived, guaranteed to completely sanitise home surfaces for five years.

Coronavirus is a hardy virus capable of lingering on surfaces for a week at the very least. But the release of a revolutionary new anti-coronavirus product promises to prevent the spread of the deadly pathogen.

Antimicrobial spray MVX Protex uses the latest nanotechnology to protect homes and hospitals against the growing coronavirus threat. The spray, developed in Japan by nanotechnology company Nanotera Group, has just been licensed in the UK.

Saba Yussouf, Director of NanoTera Group revealed how the patented and proved tech works. She said: “This technology is a spray that coats any hard or soft surface except human skin, and it can kill bacteria fungus and viruses.

“After you spray our solution on a surface and wait an hour to wait for it to dry, any pathogen – any bacteria, virus or fungus – when it touches the surface cannot spread any further and dies. We don’t go into the cell of the bacteria or the virus and kill it, which is far more complicated.”

“What we do is actually destroy their ability to attach to a host cell, which is how viruses, bacteria and fungus spread. “They need a host cell to get inside this membrane, but we don’t allow that to happen.”

The technology, which is being increasingly used by dental practices in London can be used on various surfaces including furniture, digital devices and textiles. Once the EPA-certified nanocoating has been sprayed, there is no need to disinfect it for another five years. The cost is $3,000 per hundred square metres, which when split over five years, is approximately $600 a year.

Ms Yussouf added: “It’s alarming so few locations in the UK are using this spray to sanitise and help prevent life-threatening viruses such as coronavirus.”

Dr Jeremy Ramsden, Professor of Nanotechnology at The University of Buckingham’s Clore Laboratory, said: “The recent outbreaks of Coronavirus with the prospect of a far more serious epidemic, highlights the need to diminish the environmental burden of viruses.

“It is a relief that the UK has joined other countries and licensed this spray but we certainly need to educate people on the ease of being able to keep surfaces continuously sterile without the need for further intervention.”

Ms Yussouf believes this spray should be the first line of defence, should the coronavirus outbreak become a pandemic, as some experts fear.

She said: “The NHS should make this tool available on the NHS considering we’re on the verge of a pandemic. If it’s not contained properly, it could keep going for a long time even when an antiviral shot arrives, because there are many strains and mutations.”

“We should start with making it compulsory in NHS hospitals, I think that’s a good start as there are many very old and young people in these hospitals. It’s recommended staff decontaminate surfaces five times a day and that’s a lot of costs and a lot of labour. So, imagine not needing to do it at all for a fraction of the time and fraction of the cost, which is where we can come in and help.”