The man who invented and patented the N95 mask had been retired for over two years when COVID-19 struck. When Peter Tsai recognized the shortage of his N95 masks, he said “If I did not help, I would regret it for the rest of my life because people are dying”.
Peter Tsai, a Taiwanese American scientist who invented the synthetic fabric used to make N95 respirators, patented his design in 1995 originally to prevent the spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis. In the world of nonwoven fabrics, Peter in the field of electrostatic charging and melt blowing. Electrostatic charging is the embedding of charges into a fiber to form an electret, which can improve the mechanical filtering efficiency by as much as 10 to 20 times.
In 2018, Peter Tsai introduced a new approach to applying electrostatic charge to fabrics using friction, called hydro triboelectrification. This new technology involved soaking the nonwoven fabrics in water, and then drawing the water out through a high-pressure vacuum. The friction generated by the water conveys the charge on the fabric so efficiently, that the process only needs to be performed once. His research has revolutionized the electrostatic charging and melt blowing processes, and in turn has advanced the efficiency and application of nonwoven fabrics.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these masks are in extremely short supply and have become a critical commodity. Apart from the limited supply and price hikes, the availability of nonwoven polypropylene, the main raw material for producing the primary filters. Upon realizing the extent of the shortages, Peter Tsai didn’t hesitate to leap back into action. Tsai teamed up with Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab, a Tennessee-based laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department, to begin producing N95 masks. Their objective was to convert the lab’s carbon fiber processing facility into a filtration cloth facility to using his electrostatic charging system. While Oak Ridge has been able to produce 9000 masks per hour, they don’t sell their product, but rather they provide the filter material to other labs and industry partners to study and scale production. Merlin Theodore, the director of the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at the Oak Ridge says “Dr. Tsai shaved off several months to a year of time for us”.
As COVID-19 continues its spread, healthcare systems are continuing to seek solutions to protect workers and patients. At AegisPPE, we have been working diligently to meet the needs of these facilities and