Unravelling Polymers

The Definitive Blog on Polymers by Poly Fluoro Ltd.

ePTFE Membranes - Application in high-end face masks

With the recent advent of Covid-19, there is a significant strain on resources pertaining to either the prevention or containment of the virus. 

One of the key shortages highlighted has been around face masks, where some experts have suggested that if the pandemic continues to wreak having, the US presently has only 1% of the face masks it would need.

This shortfall has led to opportunistic behavior, such that the price of face masks has more than quadrupled in the past three weeks. As a result, good quality masks are not only scarce, but are being sold at an unimaginable premium.

Enter ePTFE membranes.

While ePTFE itself is not a low-cost material, its application in face masks could be revolutionary and allow for a very effective product in fighting the current crisis. The reasons for this are as follows:

  1. Permeability – ePTFE has a unique property of being impervious to liquids, but permeable to gases. Since Covid-19 is known to be spread by droplets in the air, ePTFE forms an ideal medium to arrest the passage of droplets

  2. FDA approved – as PTFE is an FDA approved material, it poses no risks to being used in face masks. Indeed, PTFE is one of the few materials that is approved for insertion into the human body, making it completely safe for such an application

  3. Hydrophobic – not only is ePTFE resistant to droplets, it is hydrophobic in nature, meaning that droplets that do reach it are immediately repelled. Hence, there is less risk that an infected droplet would remain on the surface of the material. This allows the face mask to have a longer lift, as there is less chance that the infection stays on the surface of the material.

  4. Low cost – as mentioned, ePTFE is itself an expensive material. However, when used in a small quantity – such as would be needed in a face mask – the price is negligible when compared with standard face masks

With the current crisis in play, it is essential that newer and more effective materials are brought into action. ePTFE is one such material, as it can be manufactured in bulk and embedded into a standard non-woven polypropylene mask to give a manifold improvement in protection, while adding very little in terms of cost.

By our estimate, a simple ePTFE lined face mask should cost nothing more than US$0.2 per piece – which is a far cry from the US$2-3 we are currently seeing for high-end masks on the market.

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