IICT’s membrane-based face mask going places

SaanS mask has two different hydrophobic layers sandwiched between two textile layers

August 10, 2021 09:49 pm | Updated 09:49 pm IST - HYDERABAD

SaanS mask-making under way at the IICT Membrane Laboratory.

SaanS mask-making under way at the IICT Membrane Laboratory.

CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) work on re-purposed drugs and making the key adjuvant for making the indigenous Covaxin to combat COVID-19 is well known. Apart from these, the premier research body has been doing innovative work on a more basic level of making a scientific, effective and comfortable face mask.

Face masks are the first line of defence against COVID and although a wide variety of face masks like surgical, cloth, N-95s, etc. are available in the market, the four-layered cotton cloth mask made by scientists here is as good as they come since lot of scientific input has gone into making it. “Last March itself, our director, S. Chandrasekhar, mooted designing a protective and reusable face mask to replace single-use masks to reduce pollution. Within two months, we got the SaanS mask ready with two different hydrophobic layers sandwiched between two textile layers,” explains senior principal scientist S. Sridhar.

Making use of two-decade experience in dealing with membrane science and technology, his team used the hydrophobic ‘polyethylene terephthalate’ layer extracted from used membrane modules as the second layer to repel respiratory droplets carrying the virus with first layer being 100% cotton.

Next critical layer is the non-woven hydrophobic polypropylene barrier with a high contact angle of 120 degrees to create minimum critical pressure as a barrier and prevent aqueous aerosols from entering the human respiratory system. First and last textile layers provide tight porosity and comfort to the wearer, he says.

“Our reusable mask is developed using scientifically tested materials to prevent entry of small particles, aerosols, harmful microbes and other air-borne pollutants like pollen grains, but also offering high air permeability and comfort. The masks underwent exhaustive testing protocols at our membrane laboratory,” affirm senior principal scientists Pradosh Chakraborti and M. Chandrasekharam.

These have passed air and water permeability measurement, candle extinguishing test, filtration efficiency towards particulate matter and water holdup duration. “A good mask means it should not be able to extinguish a candle flame two feet away and should hold 10 ml water for a minute. ‘SaanS’ masks can withstand up to 30 washes for reuse,” claims Dr. Sridhar.

IICT scientists, after distributing the in-house made masks free to frontline workers, transferred the technology to a startup and voluntary organisations when Cipla Foundation (CF) came on board, ensuring 1 lakh masks are distributed free in villages, schools and hospitals across Telangana.

Khar Energy Optimizers was the first production partner and CF roped in HelpAge India (Bihar and Puducherry), Ambuja Cement Foundation (Himachal Pradesh), Manndeshi Foundation (Pune), Halo Medical Foundation (Pune) and Divya Disha (Hyderabad) to take the product to 20 States.

“We provide extensive online and hands-on training on all aspects of mask production to create livelihood opportunities for self-help groups. Project SaanS is also supporting vendors supplying tight porous cotton layers to benefit weavers. Total masks made till date are 3.5 lakh,” adds the scientist.

CF managing trustee Rumana Hamied informed earlier that four NGOs had earned ₹65 lakh (₹30 a piece) and they are ready to help more with seed capital, training and marketing help. IICT has already filed for a patent for the product.

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