Innovative Nanofiber Membranes Boost Cloth Masks to Block Up to 99% of COVID-19 Virus Particles

Liquid Polymer Stretched to Create Nanofibers

Liquid polymer is stretched out to create nanofibers used to increase the efficiency of cloth masks. Credit: BYU Photo

The cloth masks many are sporting these days offer some protection against COVID-19. However, they typically provide much less than the professional N95 masks used by healthcare workers.

That may soon change. Recently, students from BYU’s College of Engineering teamed up with Nanos Foundation to develop a nanofiber membrane that can be sandwiched between the cloth pieces in a homemade mask.

While today’s typical cloth mask might block fewer than 50% of virus particles, the membrane — which can be made using simple, inexpensive materials — will be able to block 90 to 99% of particles, increasing effectiveness while preserving breathability.

BYU engineering: Spinning nanofibers to make regular cloth masks as strong as N95 masks. Video filmed by Brian Wilcox, produced by Julie Walker.

The membranes are made through a process called “electrospinning,” which involves dissolving a polymer plastic in a solution and then using an electrical current to move a droplet of the polymer downward through a needle. As the droplet accelerates, it stretches into a very small fiber that retains a static charge.

“Those nanofibers randomly land on a collector to create a sort of non-woven mesh,” said Katie Varela, a BYU mechanical engineering senior on the project team.

The remaining charge in the fibers is beneficial, she explained, because virus particles also have a static charge. “When they come close to your mask, they will be statically attracted to the mask and will not be able to go through it, and so it prevents you from inhaling viruses.”

In addition to the dramatic improvement in efficacy, another key benefit of the nanofiber masks is that unlike traditional N95 masks, which have a reputation for being hot and stuffy, they allow for the circulation of (filtered) air, water, and heat.

Mask Filter Nanofibers

A close up look at some nanofibers recently spun and placed on a disk for testing. Credit: BYU Photo

“Not only is it hard to find an N95 mask these days, but the best mask is useless if you won’t wear it,” said Will Vahle, director at Nanos Foundation. “Our nanofiber membranes are six times easier to breathe through than existing N95 masks, making them cooler, drier, and more comfortable.”

The group plans to make the instructions for creating the membranes open source. They hope that non-profit organizations will use the instructions to set up local sites where people can bring in their masks to be fitted with a membrane. They also hope other engineers will use their work as a springboard to produce more effective filters.

“We had our own proprietary nanofiber production process,” said Vahle of the project’s origins, “but we realized, hey, we have some expertise in this — why don’t we get this together and release a version that anybody can do?”

When Vahle and his colleagues approached BYU to collaborate on the project, BYU “jumped at the opportunity,” Vahle said. In addition to providing funding and facilities, the university connected the company with “fantastic students, who’ve really demonstrated an incredible work ethic and a drive to help people in need.”

Using cutting-edge science to make an immediate positive impact has also been highly valuable for the BYU students on the project.

“This experience makes things very real,” said Varela. “I’m really glad that I’m able to help with this fight against COVID-19 to help people all around the world and in my community.”

15 Comments on "Innovative Nanofiber Membranes Boost Cloth Masks to Block Up to 99% of COVID-19 Virus Particles"

  1. Hope health supply……you’re kidding eh ?
    Check the reviews

  2. When can I buy nano fiber filters

  3. I would like to try the Nano Fabric.

  4. Julie Whitten Burdick | October 31, 2020 at 11:29 am | Reply

    My son, an asst principal, and his wife, also elementary school, but a teacher go back to school in a short amt of time, taking their 3 month old to day care. Any way we can get some of these. I am so scared, as are we all, even with brave faces.

  5. When and where can the nano fabric be bought. I hope that it will be soon. I would like to get some to use in the masks that I’m making for our children who are working in essential jobs .

  6. I too would like to know where you can find and purchase nano fabric by the yard .

  7. Sewing machine is ready

  8. Won’t work. Nothing works, this is going to kill everyone on Earth!

  9. Interested in trying really!!!

  10. Martha Ellen Hammond | October 31, 2020 at 6:39 pm | Reply

    Thanks so much 4 information about the Nano Fabric. Would like 2 purchase this fabric when it becomes available. Thanks also 2 the Scientists who have created the fabric.

  11. Amazing how plans to open up are being announced. Soon as the election has taken place.
    All of this over something where more that 95 percent will recover.Or not even feel or know they have it.
    Their facts they have given us have constantly changed. So we’re dammed if you do & dammed if you don’t.
    One thing is sure. America’s greatness will reveal the solution and truth.God bless America.

    • Yup. That’s exactly how the communists of CNN and the democratic party operate. Create a bunch of lies and give people bottles of stupid pills and try everything in their power to destroy the president that has done an incredible amount of good that the mainstream liberal God-hating satan-worshipping abortion-loving media will never tell people about.

    • By the time everyone realizes they’ve been lied to all these years and that conservatives weren’t so stupid after all, it will be too late: welcome to the Socialist States of America, where the oh-so-wonderful and benevolent democrats finally reveal that the spirit of tyranny and oppression is still alive and well.

  12. Nanofiber membrane: Please let me know when and where I can purchase.

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