In June 2020, researchers from the Institut für Textiltechnik of RWTH Aachen University received funding through the EIT Health COVID-19 Rapid Response Initiative, with the objective to discover alternative filter materials for face masks in light of supply shortages and globally imbalanced supply chains for personal protective equipment. Their project ViruShield has the objective of developing an alternative high-performance fabric that is cheap, easily available, washable and reusable, and can meet the EU standards for protection.
While researchers at the ITA of RWTH Aachen University conducted experiments on the chemical and physical properties of various textiles for face masks, researchers at Freie Universität Berlin were able to demonstrate that these new textiles can reduce high amounts of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles by up to 99.9% within a few hours. “The textiles in these masks can thus continuously inactivate the exhaled viruses and can make handling these masks even safer overall,” says Professor Dr. Uwe Rösler, Institute for Animal and Environmental Hygiene. “In addition, such textiles could also help to reduce hygienic issues in other general and medical areas, even beyond COVID-19.”
“The filters now used hold back up to 96 percent of the tiniest particles, which are between 0.02 micrometers and 2 micrometers in size, and thus exceed the requirements for FFP2 filters. In addition, they are much easier to wash than conventional melt-blown filter material. In contrast to melt-blown filters, they filter primarily through a fine network of the thinnest filaments and not through electrostatic charge,” explains Dr. David Schmelzeisen from the Institute of Textile Technology (ITA).
The results from the research include identification of ten different disinfecting textile treatments, two of which had an outstanding effect on inactivating SARS-CoV-2, and investigation of 30 different filter technologies. Within 3 months of the launch of the project, the project team developed 3 prototype series and tested them physically and digitally with end-users. The final result: the Upper Hand mask.
The principle underlying the Upper Hand mask is that the textile surface has a strong positive charge. When microbes come into contact with the technology, the microbial cell, which is negatively charged, is destroyed, leading to permanent destruction of the microorganism. As soon as the microcells are destroyed, they have no charge left. They fall off or can be washed away with cold water easily. The positive magnets they were attracted to are free again to take on the next microcells that come their way. The anti-microbial effect of the Upper Hand lasts up to 30 washes.
The mask is now available online all over Europe through the online shop upperhand.co. More than 1100 masks were sold in the first week and they immediately received positive feedback.
„The masks are super comfortable to wear, breathing is not affected despite the many layers and they are of high quality.“ Prof. Dr. Christian Au, Mainz University of Applied Sciences.
„It is easier to breathe compared to other masks and they are adjustable and super comfortable behind the ears. The neckband is a great idea, I do not have to crumple the mask up in my pocket and have it at hand at all times.“ Astrid Schinz, Architect.
„After trying the UPPER HAND. mask together with my colleagues at school, we have ordered the masks for the whole teaching staff.“ Klaudia Weltin, Teacher at Tages- und Abendschule Köln.
More information is available on their website.