UConn Engineer Invents Reusable, Biodegradable Facemask to Fight Growing Pollution of the Pandemic

A Vietnamese American engineer at the University of Connecticut, along with several Ph.D. students, submitted a patent for a reusable and biodegradable face mask to help the environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The biodegradable mask was created by UConn assistant professor of mechanical engineering Thanh Nguyen, along with Ph.D. students Eli Curry, Thinh Le, and Tra Nguyen, according to UConn Today. Instead of using polypropylene, a non-biodegradable compound that takes years to decompose, Nguyen and his fellow inventors opted with piezoelectric electrospun nanofibers. The material they used incorporates Piezoelectricity, or “pressure-induced electricity.” "Piezoelectricity is the ability of a material to generate an internal electric field when subjected to mechanical stress or strain," an article on Science Direct explains. In a demonstration, the mask proves to be more effective than a non-medical mask and almost has the same efficacy as an N95 mask under normal and extreme breathing rates. Nguyen’s mask contains a more effective filtration device by incorporating the power of the piezoelectric phenomenon. Unlike disposal masks with a one-time use, Nguyen’s mask can “be disinfected using common decontamination processes and reused several times.” The mask will also biodegrade over time without harming the environment. Nguyen and his team hope to develop the mask for commercial use, which would combat the issue of mask supply shortages and the environmental impact of disposables. Many environmentalists have raised concerns over the growing number of face masks ending up in the ocean. French politician Éric Pauget warned about the consequence of the environmental impact of disposable masks in his letter to President Emmanuel Macron last year, The Guardian reported. “With a lifespan of 450 years, these masks are an ecological timebomb given their lasting environmental consequences for our planet,” Pauget said. Hong Kong-based OceansAsia raised the same concern last year as dozens of masks wash up on the shores of uninhabited islands. “On a beach about 100 meters long, we found about 70,” Gary Stokes said, adding that the organization also discovered 30 more masks. “And that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.” “We’re finding them everywhere. Ever since society started wearing masks, the cause and effects are being seen on the beaches.” Feature Images via UConn (left) Pexels (right)