A project to develop household sprays and other products that can provide long-lasting protection against the COVID-19 virus has been launched at the University of Birmingham.
Over the next 18 months, researchers aim to formulate additives that can be incorporated into household cleaning products or used to coat products at point of manufacture to provide an invisible film that can capture COVID-19 aerosol droplets and inactivate the virus.
The team has been awarded £642,000 funding from UK Research and Innovation to develop the products, which are expected to be in production with 18 months.
The research is being carried out in partnership with the University of Cambridge and three key industrial partners: Dupont Tejin Film, Innospec and Fiberlean. Dupont Tejin is a leading manufacturer of plastic packaging and films, while Innospec develops and manufactures chemicals and chemical additive. Fiberlean is a global manufacturer of cellulose nanofibers, used in packaging to add strength.
A key focus over the first phase of the project will be to better understand how different surfaces affect the ability of the COVID-19 virus to survive. For example it is known that particles can remain active for several days on smooth surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel, but for only a few hours on paper. Characteristics such as porosity, rigidity and roughness all affect the virus's viability and the team aim to use their knowledge of these in their product development stages.
Jason Zhang, project lead in the University of Birmingham's School of Chemical Engineering, explains: "We already know that COVID-19 is transmitted via aerosol droplets that work to contain and protect the virus. The products we are developing will break down that protective coating, leaving the virus exposed and unable to survive for long.
The team aim to harness two distinctive technologies. In the first, polymer additives with highly controlled properties will be used to make molecular films that can 'disrupt' aerosol droplets containing the virus, or interfere with key viral proteins. Nanoscale additives will be also be used to absorb any protective mucus around the virus.
In the second approach, the team will develop polymer technologies that can deactivate viruses when irradiated with light.
Existing strong partnerships with Dupont Tejin Film, Innospec and Fiberlean will enable the team to deliver the products at commercial scale rapidly once the formulation stage has been completed.
Dr Zhang adds: "These products can be used at home, but also as part of routine cleaning in offices, on public transport or in hospitality venues. We're very excited to be working with our colleagues at the University of Cambridge and our industrial partners. We have the right expertise to make rapid and significant progress in this approach to combating the COVID-19 virus."
Notes to editor:
* The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.