New mask material created at NC State makes up for shortage of N95, surgical masks

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The N95 mask is considered, by scientists, to be the most effective face covering to protect from the coronavirus. However, they are still difficult to get a hold of and should be reserved for healthcare professionals.

At North Carolina State University, the Nonwovens Institute found a way around that issue, creating a new protective material.

“We’ve created something that didn’t really exist before,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of the NWI.

Every week, the institute cranks out more than 200,000 meters of two new types of material to protect against COVID-19.

“Our material offers respiratory protection similar to medical masks and N95 masks,” said Pourdeyhimi.

The materials are referred to as spunbound and meltblown. Pourdeyhimi said they’re about 95 percent effective.

“(Through our technology) we could make it lighter weight, higher efficiency and adding some other components into the fiber as we make the fiber to make an electrostatic charge they carry more stable,” Pourdeyhimi said.

That electro-static charge is the key difference between a cloth mask and an N95 or surgical mask. It allows virus particles to become trapped on the mask fibers.

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Pourdeyhimi said N.C. State has been able to manufacture enough of their own material to make 80 to 100 million face coverings or respirator filters.

He said several companies have taken the material to make face coverings that have been granted FDA approval for use in health care settings. Those supplies are now going to factory workers and health care facilities.

“It’s very strong, very flexible, very breathable,” said Pourdeyhimi.

A new grant is helping ramp up the production of the material. The 400,000 will also help improve it to meet FDA standards.

The ultimate goal is to do their part and the fill the gaps where needed.

“The impact is far beyond today. I think the impact is going to be more long term.”

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