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The University of Southampton

Research project: Rapid Decontamination System of PPE and Medical Equipment for Reuse using Flexible Non-thermal Plasma Generator

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This project aims to provide an effective decontamination method for masks with maintaining functional integrity for reuses. A mask/respirator is a basic personal protective equipment to protect frontline NHS workers and public against COVID-19. As more than 500,000 NHS workers including paramedics, doctors and nurses are on the front line of the fight against COVID-19 who need at least 4 masks per day, more than 2M masks are required on each day. In addition, the WHO and government’s guidelines to wear masks in public areas will significantly increase demands for masks.

This project aims to develop a method and procedure for decontaminating mask/respirators using non-thermal plasma for safely reuse. As a respirator is a basic personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect frontline healthcare workers against COVID-19, the chronic, global shortage of N95/N99 masks is one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives from the coronavirus. The reuse of masks may need to be considered as a crisis capacity strategy to ensure continued availability, even though most of the masks are considered one-time use. Moreover, a single-use mask is adding to the glut of plastic pollution threatening the health of oceans and marine life, environmentalists warn.

In this project, we are developing a rapid and safe dry decontamination method through adapting the state-of-art plasma technologies and printed electronics. The proposing approach will use the viricidal capability of non-thermal plasmas to decontaminate masks without using biocidal chemicals and remaining any chemical residues. The project will ensure the safe reuse of masks with maintaining structural and functional integrity with the biological and material assessments.

Specific objectives of the project include (1) preparing and validating coronavirus samples; (2) developing a plasma decontamination system; (3) quantifying concentration and distribution of biological samples before and after plasma treatment; (4) measuring the effect of plasma treatment on mask performance; (5) quantifying viral inactivation efficiency; and (6) collating and interpreting results to assess the efficacy, promise, and potential implementation pathway for the concept. Through opening up re-use of masks, this project will provide a new solution for current PPE shortage for acute global mask shortage and minimise plastic pollution.

Associated research themes

Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering

Biological Sciences

Related research groups

Aerodynamics and Flight Mechanic (AFM)
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