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Researchers study if Nova Scotia pulp can be used for N95 mask production


May 13, 2020
By P&PC Staff

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A research team at Saint Mary’s University in Nova Scotia is exploring ways to produce medical-grade pulp for N95 respirator production on the East Coast.

Dr. Christa Brosseau is a professor in Saint Mary’s University’s Faculty of Science and Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Chemistry & Materials. Her project will explore innovative chemical strategies to help determine if Nova Scotian pulp mills can produce medical-grade pulp for N95 respirator production using thermomechanical pulp.

A recent grant from Research Nova Scotia will help propel this work forward.

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N95 masks are typically composed primarily of synthetic polymer materials (polypropylene, polyester) with cellulose sometimes incorporated into one of the many layers that make up the respirator. At present, the only mill in Canada producing medical-grade pulp is Harmac Pacific in Nanaimo, B.C., and they are struggling to keep up with the increased demand.

Harmac Pacific uses Western red cedar to make kraft pulp.

Dr. Brosseau’s project will use pulp from Port Hawkesbury Paper in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. for the experiment. The goal is to find chemical additives that can help thermomechanical pulp function similarly to kraft pulp for use in the masks.

“Although this research project was identified through our COVID research response initiative, it could also have a positive impact on the Nova Scotia forestry sector,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia.

“As we pursue both a sustainable forestry industry and a response to the COVID pandemic, the research community is demonstrating its creativity and initiative.”