Czech company develops “revolutionary” facemask that could help limit spread of coronavirus

Photo: ČTK/Václav Šálek

Czech nanofiber technology firm Respilon Group says it has developed revolutionary masks capable of isolating and killing viruses, such as the one currently affecting China. To find out more, I spoke to Respilon CEO Roman Zima and began by asking him how the mask works.

Photo: ČTK/Václav Šálek
“First, you need to be aware of the distinction between a facemask and a respirator.

“According to norms and standards, a facemask is defined as a product that protects the surroundings from the wearer. That means that it captures the germs which are exiting the wearer so that they do not spread in a room or the surrounding space in general.

“This is for example why a doctor wears a facemask – he is protecting his patient against his potential germs. This is why facemask construction is not a perfect fit for the face and its filter is very weak, it just protects from droplets going out of the wearer’s mouth.

“Then you have the respirators, which are described as a labour protective product. These are suited for capturing solid particles from the air. They have nothing in common with filtrating pathogens.

“The presence of nanofibers makes the face mask capable of protecting the wearer from his surroundings and vice versa.

“Naturally however, the facemask also needs to have a slightly different shape in order to be effective.

“When this is done, respirators, in combination with the nanofibers have the ability to also stop viruses in a very efficient way.”

So, if I understand it correctly. This product protects not just the surroundings from the wearer, but also the wearer from the outside infection threats?

“Yes, both functions.”

I read that you said the new mask can not only trap the virus but also destroy it. Is that correct?

“This is actually the project that we are working on with our Israeli partner, who has the patent to make the copper dioxide nanoparticles that are present in the fibres. It is from these particles that we make the non-woven material.

“Our project is based on combining the textile together with the copper dioxide particles and with nanofibers.

“The copper dioxide layer in the mask should kill the virus immediately when the two come into contact - this is the first barrier of the mask.

Roman Zima, photo: ČTK/Václav Šálek
“The second, nanofiber barrier protects from the virus penetrating mechanically even if it is eliminated. This also includes other solid particles or pathogens.

“That means that we have a sort of two-fold protective barrier, which offers almost 100 percent protection.”

And this mask is the result of that project?

“Yes. We reached the final agreement two days ago and are now working hard to start production in 14 days.

“However, the masks will only become available for purchase in six to eight weeks, not sooner unfortunately.”

Is this mask you have developed a unique concept internationally, or is it a widespread feature in nanofiber facemasks that other companies offer as well?

“This is an absolutely unique and revolutionary approach that we took. At the moment that the mask comes out, it will be a real revolution in, lets say, civil protection.”

Will these new masks be sold only on the Czech market or abroad as well? And, how much are they going to cost?

“This is an international cooperation and we certainly do not want to limit the market.

“We hope to work with all distributors that want to put it on the market, so that all potential users and consumers have the chance to use this mask.

“Therefore, our ability to put this product on the market and the right channels is actually the most crucial part.

“We have to find the most reliable partners who have the ability of flexible supply, especially in this case of a potential pandemic.”

Nevertheless, when the mask comes out, people anywhere will be able to order it?

“Yes. Wherever they are, they will be able to order the mask on the online store on our Respilon website, in six to eight weeks’ time.

“As far as the price is concerned, it should range between 2 to 5 US dollars.

“We are still working the specifics out, but we want to make it as affordable as possible.”

Photo: ČTK/Václav Šálek
Can the facemasks be reused?

“At the moment you have two types of filtration.

“The first concerns solid particles and this is where the mask can be reused in certain cases.

“However, if you want to be protected from pathogens, it is definitely important to approach this as a one use only disposable product.

“This is because the moment you take the mask off, for example placing it on your neck, you do not have control over how this mask could be contaminated. This can be risky when you subsequently put it back on your face and breathe.

“It is for this reason that the mask should be regarded as disposable.”