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NatureWorks donates enough biopolymer to fashion 10 million N-95 masks

The biopolymer supplier has donated the Ingeo biopolymer needed to produce as many as two million reusable N95 masks per week from a new spunbond nonwoven structure.


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April 22, 2020 by Canadian Plastics

Biopoymer supplier NatureWorks and its longtime partner the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) at North Carolina State University have developed a new spunbond nonwoven technology enabling the production of at least 10 million additional N95 surgical masks to battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

NWI has converted the use of its research and training pilot production line to produce the face mask materials, and NatureWorks has donated its Ingeo resin needed to produce the spunbond material.

“Donating the Ingeo needed for this application was an easy decision,” said Rich Altice, president and CEO of Minnetonka, Minn.-basedNatureWorks. “We wanted to support NWI as they create devices that will protect the healthcare workers who will take care of us, our families, our colleagues, and our communities in this crisis.”

Nonwoven spunbond made with Ingeo biopolymer. Photo Credit: NatureWorks

Typical N95 respirators and surgical masks are a multi-layer structure of one or two spunbond nonwoven layers that provide mask shape and protect the inner filtration layer. Those layers are combined with an electrostatically charged layer of meltblown nonwoven material which serves as the filtration layer capturing microscopic unwanted particles such as viruses and bacteria. The charge is what boosts the meltblown’s filtering capabilities, but it also means that the masks cannot be reused since the charge can be lost during the cleaning process.

“Because of the COVID-19 crisis, we took the spunbond technology and created a new generation of unique filters that have excellent filtering capability without needing to be charged, meaning they can potentially be reused after cleaning with peroxide, or an alcohol solution,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of NWI, Wilson College of Textiles associate dean for industry research and extension, and William A. Klopman distinguished professor. “Because these materials are also strong, they can be cut and sewn by traditional techniques.”

The new nonwoven fabric is a bicomponent fibre made of Ingeo biopolymer (PLA) and polypropylene, providing what NatureWorks calls “significant strength and bulk” with equal effectiveness in filtration. “Additionally, Ingeo improves the productivity of the spunbond process by at least 30 per cent,” NatureWorks officials said. “Leveraging these benefits, NWI’s pilot line can produce enough material to make two million masks per week.

“Typically, one meter of spunbond material provides enough for about 20 to 25 masks when using the current designs,” Pourdeyhimi said. “One of the NWI’s production lines started producing 2,000 meters of spunbond material per hour, with the potential to create some 20,000 meters of spunbond material in a day.”

NWI currently has an agreement to provide large amounts of spunbond nonwoven material to several key partners, which will make masks at their manufacturing facilities. They plan to provide the new masks to local communities in need. North Carolina State has also ordered machines that will allow NWI to make surgical masks in its Centennial Campus facilities. Those machines should arrive in the next month, NatureWorks officials said.