This is a pilot program to recycle personal protection elements, a gelling agent, cellulose face masks and biodegradable face shields, all initiatives in an advanced stage.

A problem brings an opportunity”, recognizes the executive director of the Technological Development Unit, Alex Berg, referring to the turn that they have had to take as of March to contribute to the fight against the pandemic, which has resulted in four initiatives: a gelling agent (alcohol gel), cellulose face masks, recycling of personal protection elements and biodegradable face shields.

Berg believes that science and research have a responsibility to society and, at times like today, are called upon to cooperate, which in practice requires the joint effort of many universities and researchers, which imposes significant management challenges.

“We have been working with the support of companies since March in these four lines. You have to understand that this scenario is very dynamic, therefore, quick solutions are required”.

The progress

The recycling of disposable face masks stands out (pilot project).

“The massive use of Personal Protection Elements (PPE) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing serious environmental problems. Face masks, aprons and shoe protectors, among others, are made with tiny polypropylene fibers, a non-degradable oil-derived plastic material. Unlike developed countries, in Chile we do not have adequate incineration equipment that allows its destruction. Therefore, we started a three-month pilot program that considers collecting face masks, sanitizing them and evaluating their mechanical and thermochemical recycling. As a result, we will propose a management system and technical and economic evaluations on their processing, as well as the most promising uses of the material”, Alex Berg explained.

In accordance with the foregoing, the development of cellulose-based face masks stands out (R&D project approved and starting).

“We will develop a technology that allows us to manufacture disposable face masks based on cellulose, a biobased, degradable product that is widely available in the country.”

A gelling agent for alcohol based on cellulose nanofibers is added (a process implemented at the productive level). “We are able to produce gelling agent to manufacture approximately 5 cubic meters of alcohol gel daily. We are talking with companies interested in the product as to start the production as soon as possible”.

Finally, there are the biodegradable face shields (tests at the production level). “Together with the Novaquim company, we are developing this type of protection element with biodegradable materials; both the headband and the transparent shield. We do not know another product with the benefits mentioned in the market”.

Source: Diario Concepcion, Javier Ochoa, July 26, 2020