Donning a facemask has become de rigueur in these corona-stricken times. But unfortunately, such masks can get pretty dirty and ineffective when used improperly, offering a false sense of security.

This is where research being carried out at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on self-sterilizing air filters could prove useful. Taking their cue from existing water filtration technologies, researchers are now trying to apply them to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems as well as to facemasks.

Their nanotechnology is derived from laser-induced graphene (LIG) water filters that eliminate viruses and bacteria in water.

LIG is a microporous graphene foam that can be generated on many types of materials. It is resistant to bacteria and kills microbes and viruses using a low-level electric current from a power source. It can provide active protection with simultaneous contamination removal and disinfection.

“The bacterial-resistant graphene surface protects against microorganisms so they can’t multiply, while the microbes trapped in the filter are eliminated by the electric current,” says BGU’s Dr. Chris Arnusch.

“The material can be completely sterilized by electrical current. Thus, an LIG air filter has the potential to be combined with state-of-the-art air filtration such as HEPA filters. The filters could add an active layer of protection, as well as prolong the lifetime of the expensive HEPA technology. As a result, hospitals, cars, buildings and public transport could all become safer spaces,” he explains.

“If such a material is incorporated into a mask, a higher level of protection for medical providers, as well as the general population, could be possible.”

The research is being supported by a seed grant from the BGU Coronavirus Task Force, which was established to harness the brainpower of the university’s faculty and students to tackle different aspects of the global pandemic.