A group of scientists from the Bengaluru-based Centre for Nano Soft Matter Sciences (CeNS) have come up with a solution to make masks more effective in offering protection against the Coronavirus. The innovation, named as Tribo-E mask, works on the concept of triboelectricity, which is an electric charge generated by friction.
“The N95 masks provide high-level protection and are recommended for healthcare workers. This is because it works on two methods — mechanical filtering, in which particles are caught by microscopic fibres, and electrostatic filtering, in which particles are attracted to the surface that carries a static charge. This electrostatic charge is created owing to the material and is deactivated once it comes in contact with moisture. Though there are reusable masks, the filtration capacity is affected after each wash,” says Dr Pralay Santra, a lead researcher in the project.
Along with other researchers from CeNS — Dr Ashutosh Singh and Prof. G. U. Kulkarni, Dr Pralay wanted to introduce a mask that could recharge the electrostatic energy without external influence. Within a few months, the team came up with the Tribo-E mask.
“Made using three simple materials, the Tribo-E mask can be electrostatically charged before every wear. It offers protection from bacteria and viruses based on a simple physics concept,” says Dr Pralay.
About the triboelectricity mask
Though rudimentary in its concept, Dr Pralay says that the mask is 95 per cent effective in blocking particulate matter of 0.3 microns.
“In April, we worked on a formula to make a mask using material that would generate static electricity and provide protection against the virus. Using nylon, polypropylene, and cotton, a three-layered mask was stitched. To give it a snug-fit the shape of the mask was made triangular, where it would taper around the nose and go wider around the mouth. The shape creates a space in front of the mouth making it comfortable even while talking,” says Dr Pralay.
On rubbing the triboelectricity cloth together, the static electricity is activated, and when worn the static energy in the mask arrests virus and bacteria trying to pass through it. The team of researchers also ran two kinds of tests at the lab to check the level of protection it offered.
“The first test was thermal imaging to check the quality of ventilation from the mask. There was a considerable amount of ventilation, and no air leakage owing to the snug fit around the nose and cheek. The second test was checking the filtration of particles. This was done using a particle counter and the results showed 95 per cent filtration of 0.3-micron particles present in the atmosphere,” says Dr Pralay.
The team also washed the mask and tried the same tests to check its durability. He says, “The same results were delivered after washing the mask up to 20 times. Before every use, the cloth has to be rubbed together to generate static electricity.”
Once the technology was finalised, the team introduced the formula to Bengaluru-based Camellia Clothing who now makes the triboelectricity Tribo-E masks under the name ‘3BO masks’. With help from the clothing manufacturers that have been in the market for 20 years, the design and materials were fine-tuned and finalised for production.
Harish Mittal, the founder of Camellia Clothing says that though they are primarily into stitching apparel, they ventured into masks after the team of scientists approached them.
Harish says, “The masks are made using nylon and polypropylene to generate static electricity. It has a layer of antimicrobial cotton cloth on the inside that offers both comfort and protection. To give it a fashionable look, there is a mesh fabric or knitted fabric on the outer covering. The mask is not only lightweight, but it also prevents fogging when wearing glasses owing to the triangular shape. ”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)