BUT has designed an affordable respirator; a compostable option is on its way
Researchers from the laboratory of bioplastics, Faculty of Chemistry BUT, have designed a simple respirator that could be produced as cheaply as plastic beverage cups. The method of vacuum thermoforming will enable mass production of the respirator and its availability to the emergency services, as well as to ordinary citizens.
In March 2020, Radek Přikryl from the Institute of Materials Science (Faculty of Chemistry BUT) began to work with the idea for manufacturing of a half-mask that would use the technology of vacuum thermoforming: “While we had no protective equipment at all, we primarily tried to equip BUT using any material available. If you are holding a plastic beverage cup in your hand, you get different sorts of ideas. There is plenty of commercial solutions; unfortunately, none of them was available at that time.” Therefore, material engineers contacted their colleagues from the Institute of Machine and Industrial Design at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, and they started to work on the respirator’s design together. “Thanks to our experience with parametric 3D modelling and manufacturing data, as well as with ergonomics of the masks that were developed at the same time for 3D printers, we were able to create moulds for the vacuum thermoforming and manufacture a prototype in three weeks,” says David Paloušek from the Institute of Machine and Industrial Design.
“Because its shell is made of plastic, this respirator is unbelievably light and quite flexible. Even with filters and rubber bands, it weighs less than 25 grams. For instance, even the lightest textile respirators weigh approximately 10 grams. Respirators with changeable filters are ten times heavier. Moreover, our respirator is designed to contain an easily replaceable textile filter. The quality of the filter will determine the degree of protection. It will be possible to use locally available materials. The mask itself can be washed and disinfected by alcohol-based products,” Radek Přikryl explains.
The respirator has been tested with filtration fabrics for the FFP 1 and FFP 2 classes. If worn properly, all exhaled and inhaled air is filtered. This would make the respirator useful not only to the emergency services, but to ordinary citizens as well. “Also, we have been developing masks made of compostable materials. This aspect would be particularly important for potential use in some developing countries, where the issue of collection and recycling of plastic waste is not fully resolved. These materials have been developed for us by PANARA Nitra and our colleagues from the Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology, Slovak University of Technology,” Radek Přikryl says. He adds: “We have the first functioning prototypes in one basic size submitted to the further testing. We want to offer our concept of affordable respirators to companies that already work with the vacuum thermoforming technology. Together with a suitable investor, we would like to evaluate their real use in practice. A potential manufacturer would have to ensure several certifications.”