These are the initiatives, in different stages of development, that UDT is investigating to help in this global health crisis: distillation of pomace and discarded wines, development of a new gelling agent based on nanocellulose, development of disposable masks based on natural fibers and reuse or recycling of non-woven PP masks.

One of the most demanded products during this Covid-19 emergency is alcohol gel to disinfect our hands. To make it, you need alcohol in a concentration of not less than 70% and a gelling agent, so that it does not run between your fingers like water.

UDT contacted wine producers in the region to use their by-products such as pomace and discarded wines. “From these elements, we are testing the production of ethanol for the production of alcohol gel. The challenge is to develop a process to concentrate the diluted wine solution from 12% to 70%”, explained Carla Pérez, Head of the Technical Assistance Division of UDT. The second part is to produce a new gelling agent to add to this ethanol, for which tests are being carried out with cellulose nanofibers. Both elements, ethanol and gelling agent, could give rise to a biobased and sustainable alcohol gel.

Face masks: sustainable product development and recycling of conventional ones

Disposable face masks are made of non-woven polypropylene (PP), a material that has very fine fibers that are harmful to the environment. “At UDT we are working on creating a new type of face mask made from cellulose fibers, a sustainable and biodegradable raw material. We need to achieve a material that allows the passage of air, prevents the passage of viruses, hydrophobic and with good mechanical properties”, says Dr. Alex Berg, Director of UDT. You can see the prototypes of these face masks in the images that accompany this note.

Another proposal, promoted by Dr. Paulina Assmann, SEREMI of Science of the Central-South Macrozone, is the recycling of plastic PPE (personal protection elements), such as disposable PP masks, face shields, aprons, among other products, that are being intensively used and discarded. Two alternatives are being evaluated: mechanical recycling to obtain pellets that can be used again in plastic products; and a thermochemical recycling, through pyrolysis, to obtain hydrophobic waxes.