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FPInnovations completes first-phase development of biodegradable face masks


September 16, 2020
By FPInnovations

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FPInnovations created a filtration media for masks out of wood fibre. Photo: FPInnovations

FPInnovations has successfully completed phase one in the development of biodegradable disposable face masks, and is ready to begin the second phase, which is expected to lead to an entirely made-in-Canada biodegradable solution for face coverings.

The company expects the full mask to be developed by December.

During an eight-week applied research sprint and with financial support from Natural Resources Canada, FPInnovations quickly completed the first phase and successfully developed a biodegradable cellulosic filter media.

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The cellulosic filter media is the middle layer of a three-layer mask, is made from sustainable wood fibres, and is suitable for single-use face masks for public use. Current single-use personal masks are made from petroleum-based plastics.

The average filtration efficiency of this new cellulosic filter media is currently at 60 per cent, surpassing the average filtration efficiency of a typical cloth mask, which is approximately 30 per cent.

FPInnovations’ research efforts now aim to further improve the filtration efficiency of the media to meet requirements for surgical masks, which may lead to potential new uses of the filter medium such as in-air filtration systems.

The existing Canadian pulp and paper industry could meet the mask procurement needs of Canada within weeks without having to make changes to their production lines and without needing large investments in new equipment.

The Canadian forest sector can offer a global solution where significant export opportunities could be developed in a very short time frame.

The cellulosic filter media is made from a blend of hardwood and softwood fibres from sustainable Canadian forests.

“The work we are doing at FPInnovations allows the Canadian forest sector to produce safe, local and eco-friendly solutions to Canadians. The innovations being developed in the area of cellulosic fibres open the doors to new markets,” says Stéphane Renou, president and chief executive officer of FPInnovations. “This is further evidence that the forest industry can offer much more than people realize.”

The Canadian industry re-grows as many trees as it harvests, making Canada a global leader in forest management with more than 170 million hectares or 38 per cent of the globe’s certified forests.

Only 0.2 per cent of Canada’s forests are harvested annually. This approach would contribute to address the environmental problem that the quickly growing demand for disposable plastic masks has created.

Through upcoming collaboration with industrial and government partners on this project, FPInnovations will pursue phase two of its research efforts, focusing on the development of a fully biodegradable, disposable mask, made in Canada from sustainable and renewable Canadian wood fibres that is ready for public use worldwide.