UBCO researcher creates antiviral material for face masks to stop COVID-19

Made-in-Kelowna virus help

A Kelowna researcher has won an award for a COVID-19 breakthrough.

University of British Columbia Okanagan researcher Dr. Seyyedarash Haddadi has been recognized after he devised an antiviral material for facemasks designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Haddadi has been researching anti-corrosion coatings, so when the pandemic hit he pivoted to apply his graphene research towards virus prevention. What he discovered was a first-of-its-kind, low-cost and 99 per cent effective antimicrobial fabric coating. The coating is made from a graphene oxide and silver combination, which has just received Health Canada approval and is being incorporated into millions of face masks for sale worldwide.

The breakthrough work has earned Haddadi the Mitacs & NRC-IRAP Award for Commercialization, awarded by Mitacs, a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. The award will be presented at a ceremony on November 23, that will is both online and in-person at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Dr. Haddadi discovered that covering super-thin sheets of patent-pending oxidized graphene with silver resulted in antiviral and antibacterial properties. Further testing showed that his invention, incorporated in a surgical mask, reduces transmission of active pathogens by more than 99.99 per cent, including COVID-19 viral particles and bacteria.

“The final product is made from a silver-coated graphene oxide sheet, less than one nanometer in thickness, that we disperse in water and then spray on the surface of fabrics,” said Haddadi, explaining that no solvents or toxic chemicals are added to the compound, resulting in an, odorless coating that is safe for consumer use.

“When we apply it to an average four-ply face mask, we coat the inner layer so that nothing is on the exterior of the mask,” he added.

The product has received Health Canada approval and, Zen Graphene Solutions has already made its first commercial sale of the novel coating — marketed as ZenGuard™ — to TreborRX Corp. of Collingwood, Ontario, which plans to launch what it calls a “game-changing” four-ply mask. Zentek is also investing $6 million to build its own manufacturing capacity to produce enough coating and coated materials for up to 800 million antimicrobial face masks per month by early next year.

“After announcing our invention, we heard from many companies around the world who are interested in partnering with us to test and use this coating on their fabrics,” Haddadi said. The appeal, he added, is that only a very small amount of the coating is required to effectively deactivate pathogens. “One gram of material is sufficient to coat 300 masks, making this a very affordable large-scale solution,” he said.

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