Molecular Plasma Group, based in the Leuven bio-incubator building, has developed a technology that allows manufacturers of oral masks to apply a cleansing layer to the mask.
What if a layer could be applied to mouth masks and other protective materials that kill coronavirus? That idea shot through Marc Jacobs' head a little less than a year ago, when the corona crisis erupted. A year later, the first producers of mouth masks are working with the technology of Jacobs and his company, the Belgian-Luxembourg-based Molecular Plasma Group. One of those producers is ECA from Assenede, in normal times specialized in car upholstery, since last year in April also active in mouth masks. Another is Deltrian from Fleurus, a specialist in air filters.
Jacobs made a career in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg with an injection molding company for packaging. Since 2016, he has been working on a technology that saw the light of day at the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) in Mol: plasma technology. 'Plasma is actually the fourth state in which matter can occur,' he explains. If you add energy to gas, you get a plasma. The sun, for example, is a ball of plasma, under very high energy. VITO has managed to go to a phase of plasma, but at room temperature.'
With plasma technology, molecules can be attached to another surface in a layer of nanometers - 'a thousandth of the thickness of a hair'. 'Plasma makes the surface unstable, and so does the molecule. They then start to bind to each other," Jacobs says. The company first applied the process to industrial customers, for example to glue car windows without heavy chemical processes. But in 2018 the question came from KU Leuven what was possible in the (bio)medical field. For example, could antibodies be attached to another surface? That turned out to be doable.
The start of the corona crisis was the litmus test for ambitions in that field. 'We looked at 500 to 600 configurations for the layer. Part of the solution turned out to be citric acid, a foodstuff present in many nutrients. It is also a simple disinfectant for which there are not many hurdles to overcome in terms of regulation,' says Jacobs. The protective coating can eliminate up to 99.9 percent of virus particles, the claim goes. The citric acid is a 100 percent natural product, supplied by Citrique Belge from Tienen. The Molecular Plasma Group developed the coating with the Hopitaux Robert Schuman of Luxembourg.
Applying extra protection to a mouth mask is not an entirely new invention. The technology for attaching silver ions as nano-particles inside the fibers of mouth masks had already come from Asia. However, there were doubts about the safety of such silver ions. 'We did safety tests with an extreme dose in our development. We want our local customers to be able to just hold their own against Chinese imports with this technology.'
The Molecular Plasma Group does not aim to produce its own mouth masks. It supplies the system to customers, who have fifty million mouth masks as their entry-level capacity. It says it has already sold three such systems. 'So we are definitely talking about 150 million mouth masks already.'
Source: De Tijd, translated by Leuven MindGate