The global health crisis that we are facing right now led us to adapt to the new normal. One of those norms is the wearing of N95 masks whenever we have to go out to buy groceries, run some errands and others. The demand for N95 masks has increased rapidly as it has become a requirement for every individual including ordinary citizens, essential workers and frontliners. With this, it is not avoidable that the supply of these masks has been greatly affected. N95 masks are not usable. Once they are used, they have to be disposed and burned properly to prevent the spread of the virus. With that, a lot of experts are suggesting that N95 masks should be rechargeable instead of disposable. This is to help conserve our environment and at the same time, to manage the increasing demand for these essential gears. According to the researchers at Technion-IIT and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, there should be a system that focuses not only on decontamination but also on another aspect of N95 masks which is to render the effectiveness over time.
Technically speaking, N95 masks work in the way that it utilizes both electrostatic filtering and mechanical filtering. For electrostatic filtering, the particles are attracted to the areas that carry a static charge. On the other hand, mechanical filtering is the process where the particles are caught using microscopic fibers. These two filtering processes of N96 masks make it effective. However, N95 masks are not perfect. The electrostatic charge of the mask tends to dissipate over time as moisture and air pass over it. This is the reason why we can’t use the same N95 mask over and over again. Once we used it, it has already served its purpose and should be disposed properly.
As researchers claim that it is possible to recharge N95 mask by its filter. What we have to do is place the filter between 2 plate electrodes and add a strong electric field. According to Shankar Ghosh and Dov levine from Tata and Technion respectively, the charge deposited on the N95 masks will depend on the time of charging with the value of pristine reattained after 1-hour charge at 1000 V. Furthermore, in order to address the possibility that health workers have to disassemble the masks after their shift, the research team is now also exploring the possibility of a mask that has a built-in battery constantly recharges itself. With this, disposable masks can be replaced with modern ones which are rechargeable. This kind of solution can certainly be useful in replenishing the lost charge on the masks. The study has also tested some techniques by which the filter material maintains its charge and the efficiency of the filtration process. High quality N95 respirators will be possible with the continuous study and development of this research. Consequently, this could help in addressing the shortage of our supply in masks especially today that the cases of COVID-19 are increasing.