Most facemasks worn to protect against Covid-19 infection are disposable, including simple blue surgical masks and more expensive N95 filtered masks.

Prof. Yair Ein-Eli, dean of the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technion, has now developed a technology that can essentially “recharge” a disposable mask so it can be used again and again.

The idea comes from Ein-Eli’s expertise in battery technology. He thought about inserting a heating element composed of carbon fibers into the mask which, when heated to 65 to 70 degrees Celsius, would destroy any viruses or bacteria that had accumulated.

Putting a battery inside the mask would make it heavy and awkward to wear.

Instead, Ein-Eli’s patent-pending invention connects the carbon fibers to any low-current USB cable or phone charger. No other modifications need to be made.

Prof. Yair Ein-Eli, dean of the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering at the Technion. Photo: courtesy

Ein-Eli estimates that his cleaning mechanism will bump up the price of a mask just 90 cents. Disinfecting should take less than 30 minutes.

The timing is right: a poll conducted by the Washington Post found that two-thirds of health workers said there is still a shortage of facemasks that filter out most airborne particles – like the N95. Moreover, if the coronavirus continues to surge or returns in a second wave, US healthcare workers will need 3.5 billion masks, which is 100 times more than the number of masks readily available.

While cotton masks, now becoming fashionable for the general public, could conceivably be cleaned using Ein-Eli’s technology, they don’t effectively filter out coronavirus particles and are not used in hospital settings.

On the other hand, if N95 masks become reusable, it could blunt the shortage and make more such masks available for the public to buy.

Ein-Eli’s research group created a prototype and tested it together with Prof. Debbie Lindell and Prof. Oded Beja from the Technion’s Faculty of Biology. TheUS patent application was submitted March 31 and the Technion says it is “currently discussing commercialization with industrial companies.”