Development of Next-Generation Protective Clothing and High-Performing Face Masks

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Copyright: Bhattacharjee, Shovon
There is an ongoing global threat of highly transmissible infectious disease outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the demand for effective, sustainable, and reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) is high for the protection of the frontline workers and community, especially with possible vaccine-resistant variants emerging. However, the commonly used PPE, especially protective clothing, and face masks, has several drawbacks and improvement areas. In this thesis, three state-of-the-art reviews (Chapters 2A, 2B, and 2C) identified the challenges and limitations of commonly used protective clothing and face masks. Potential new materials, technologies, and strategies were also addressed to overcome the limitations and challenges. Lastresort strategies were outlined to help people navigate their choices during mask shortages. In addition, it was revealed that the multifunctional performance of PPE could be significantly enhanced with the application of advanced materials such as graphene and metal nanoparticles (NPs). Accordingly, in Chapters 3 and 4, reduced graphene oxide (RGO) and copper (Cu)/silver (Ag) NPs incorporated cotton and silk fabrics were developed by a facile dip and dry method using a silane crosslinking agent followed by chemical reduction and vacuum heat treatment. The developed fabrics demonstrated excellent multifunctional activities such as hydrophobicity, electroconductivity, Joule heating capacity, heat dissipation, thermal stability, mechanical stability, UV shielding, and washing durability. Especially, the RGO- and Cu-NPs-embedded cotton and silk fabrics exhibited the best multifunctional performances with high washing durability among all other fabric samples. To further assess the potential of protective clothing, antimicrobial activity and biocompatibility of the developed fabrics were investigated in Chapter 5. The graphene and Cu/Ag NPs incorporated fabrics showed excellent activity against bacteria (Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus) and fungus (Candida albicans). On top of the antimicrobial activity, the developed fabrics showed low cytotoxicity, making them a potential candidate for application in next-generation PPE. During COVID-19, due to the massive global shortage of disposable masks/respirators, cloth masks became a mainstay and showed hope of being a sustainable alternative to medical masks. Chapter 6 provides a comprehensive study using violent respiratory events (sneeze) and evaluating all dimensions of protection (respiratory droplet blocking efficiency, water resistance, and breathing resistance) to develop a blueprint for the optimal design of a high-performing reusable cloth mask that can outperform a disposable surgical mask. The results reveal that droplet blocking efficiency increases by ∼20 times per additional fabric layer. A minimum of 3 layers with a combination of cotton/linen (hydrophilic) for the inner layer, blends for the middle–layer, and polyester/nylon (hydrophobic) for the outer–layer is required to resemble the performance of surgical masks. The fabrics' average thread count and porosity should be greater than 200 and less than 2 %, respectively. Overall, the developed graphene/NPs incorporated multifunctional fabrics, and face mask design proved to be a breakthrough to prevail over the limitations of the conventional PPE materials. They hold great promise to be applied to a broader range of PPE and could provide a sustainable PPE solution globally.
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