The problem of the lack of effective face masks motivated the team of Dr. Rey Capangpangan from Caraga State University (CSU) to develop the nanocellulose filter material which is sourced from waste materials to produce face masks that are now very important for frontliners battling COVID-19.
Cloth face masks are especially in demand now. But are the ordinary face masks really effective against coronavirus? Sadly, no. These cannot filter larger droplets containing the 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 to develop a filter material that can be inserted in the 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 project funded by the DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technologies Research and Development (PCIEERD). The lab serves as a facility, not just for researchers who are into materials development, but also for local industries. The team’s current work is on cellulose biopolymer where they saw the potential in developing a filter material from it while 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.
The research is in collaboration with the College of Engineering and Geosciences (CEGS) and Caraga Fabrication Laboratory in CSU in developing the 3D printed face masks. The lab also collaborated 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 still 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 well as much as the commercial face masks. The team emphasized that the research project does not aim to replace the masks used by health and medical practitioners but to provide innovation to effectively reduce contamination using washable low cost nanocellulose films.
For now, the laboratory is in need of raw materials and reagents to continue its production. The team of researchers are appealing for further assistance to manufacture more face masks. Interested parties who want to help can contact DOST-Caraga or the project leader, Dr. Rey Capangpangan at Caraga State University, Butuan City.
Incidentally, Dr. Capangpangan is an active member of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) of the Department of Science and Technology. (DOST)