TU Ilmenau develops new materials for sustainable respiratory masks

Nahaufnahme eines Gerätes zur TextilveredelungThorey Gera Textilveredelung
The sustainable FFP2 masks developed by the TU Ilmenau are manufactured by the company Thorey Gera Textilveredelung

The Technische Universität Ilmenau is developing new materials for sustainable and resource-saving respiratory masks. In contrast to the masks commonly used during the coronavirus pandemic, the new materials should make it possible for masks to be used several times. This would save considerable amounts of "medical waste" and make the supply of masks much cheaper for consumers. The InnoMask research project, which has just been launched, is being funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection with 1.1 million euros over three years.

Because they offered a high level of protection against infection with the Covid-19 virus, wearing FFP2 respiratory masks was mandatory during the pandemic. However, in order to protect people in the long term, the masks had to be constantly changed. However, as the conventional masks could not be recycled, they had to be disposed of in the residual waste - the mountains of waste grew. During the coronavirus pandemic, many tens of thousands of tons of additional medical waste products were produced. Two years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that disposal systems around the world were overloaded with waste from hospitals, especially in the least developed countries: By far the largest quantities of waste were sent to Africa for disposal.

Gerätschaften der Firma Thorey Thorey Gera Textilveredelung
Thorey Gera Textilveredelung is a company that is over 100 years old and specialises in the production of technical textiles

In the InnoMask research project ("Innovative production of sustainable materials for the sustainable manufacture of respiratory masks"), the TU Ilmenau and two Thuringian companies from the medical sector are developing plastics for the manufacture of respiratory masks that are just as effective at protecting against viruses and bacteria, but are more environmentally friendly, sustainable and resource-efficient. Instead of using fossil resources to manufacture masks, new sustainable plastics are being developed on a biological basis and provided with antibacterial plant-based active ingredients. If, for example, polylactic acid, a plastic that is made from renewable raw materials and is biodegradable, is combined with this plant-based active ingredient, significant quantities of viruses and bacteria are killed - the environmentally friendly masks can be reused and no longer need to be disposed of so frequently. The new plastic could also be recycled more easily after the masks have been used: Once cleaned, it would be reintroduced into the production chain, whether to make new respiratory masks or to make completely different products from it.

Prof. Florian Puch, Head of the Plastics Technology Group at TU Ilmenau, is convinced of the effectiveness of biologically based plastics: "If we use raw materials such as corn starch, for example, we could produce plastics that are biodegradable. The used masks could then be thrown into the organic waste garbage can or compost - or even better: the masks could then be recycled and reused."

Two Thuringian companies are involved in the InnoMask project alongside the Plastics Technology and Nanobiosystems Technology Groups at TU Ilmenau: WTA Technologies GmbH and Thorey Gera Textilveredelung GmbH. While WTA Technologies GmbH, a manufacturer of medical masks and membrane filters, will investigate the biodegradability of the masks produced in the project, Thorey Gera Textilveredelung, a company with over 100 years of experience specializing in the manufacture of technical textiles, is responsible for the production of the FFP2 masks.



Prof. Florian Puch
Head of the Plastics Technology
+49 3677 69-2450