The Stellenbosch Nanofiber Company has been developing nanofiber based products, including advanced wound dressings, tissue engineering scaffolds and cosmetic products for nearly a decade.
When we saw that the pandemic was leading to a global shortage of PPE, we decided to refocus our efforts on helping to solve this problem locally. While a lot of the media attention was focused on the shortage of respirator masks, like the N95 or FFP2, many of the efforts in pre-existing supply chains were already focused on addressing these shortages. An equally alarming concern was the huge volume of single-use medical masks (also known as surgical masks) that would be required.
These masks are used by medical professionals in their normal lower-risk and day-to-day activities (i.e. doctors, nurses and dentists treating their routine, non-Covid-19 patients). They are also worn by community care workers when moving around in the community and they are issued to confirmed infectious patients to reduce the spread of the virus. Outside the medical profession, these masks are also worn by many workers in clean manufacturing environments, including food processing, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and electronics, and all of these industries were being impacted by the shortage, and sky-rocketing prices for surgical masks.
SNC therefore set out to develop a nanofiber-based surgical mask that would meet medical device requirements. In selecting these target performance criteria, we opted to meet the requirements of the European standard (EN 14683), which meant we needed an aerosol particle and bacterial filtration efficiency ≥ 95% (for Type I masks), ≥ 98% (for Type II masks), high breathability < 40 Pa/cm 2, and microbial cleanliness ≤ 30 cfu/g.
It was also clear that the single-use aspect of traditional surgical masks was leading to waste management problems that presented health and environmental threats in themselves (sources:
1 and 2). SNC therefore created an alternative, reusable mask, that could be used up to 10 times. This means that every SNC nanofiber filter eliminates 9 single-use surgical masks from landfill, and the oceans. Furthermore, the reusability of the mask actually makes it more affordable than single-use options.