Sandia National Laboratories has come up with its own version of a reusable respirator for frontline workers.
Sandia has filed for patent protection, is testing prototypes, and seeking NIOSH approval and potential manufacturing partners for its elastomeric half-mask N95 respirator. It’s the latest entry to a small but growing category of reusable masks designed to filter at least 95% of airborne virus particles from being inhaled and exhaled.
Developers of these masks, including disposable N95-maker 3M, are seeking to better protect healthcare and other frontline workers and those around them from SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They also want to prevent shortages of disposable N95s like those that plagued healthcare workers during this pandemic and enable better preparation for the next one.
Sandia’s prototype mask has been designed for extended, repeated use, meaning hospitals might need only one respirator for each worker. It filters both inhaled and exhaled air with nonproprietary, replaceable N95 material stored inside two disc-shaped cases, protecting wearers and patients. A resonator, like the one on the end of a stethoscope, transmits the wearer’s voice for clear communication.
The Sandia mask is also designed to distribute its weight across the whole head, easing pressure on the wearer’s face. It’s possible to completely disassemble it for cleaning between. The mask is meant to be compatible with autoclaving, a common sterilization method in hospitals that uses steam and heat to kill microbes, according to lab officials.
Seventeen researchers worked on the design, including mechanical engineers, microbiologists, virologists, materials scientists, fabrication experts and aerosol scientist.
An aerosol is a mist of particles or droplets, like hairspray, fog or a virus-laden cough. But aerosol science is used differently at Sandia, which does R&D work in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness at facilities in Albuquerque, N.M. and Livermore, Calif. There, aerosol science is a means to detect biological agents in an explosion, contain the spread of chemical vapors or measure airborne particles from nuclear weapons programs.
When respirator shortages began making headlines last year, aerosol scientist Michael Omana and his colleagues responded by retuning their equipment for COVID-19 research. In addition to helping with the respirator design, Sandia’s aerosol teams led 11 pandemic-related projects in the last year, many of which tested mask materials and decontamination methods, and have lent support to more projects led by other labs.
Preliminary test results at Sandia show promise that the mask can meet NIOSH filtration, fit and airflow standards, according to the release. Further studies are needed to determine how long the mask can be comfortably worn.
“We can test the respirator fit and filtration applying the same rigor as required for NIOSH certification. Additionally, we can rapidly build prototypes on-site and can perform studies on the fit and performance to quickly get feedback on the mechanical design,” said Todd Barrick, an engineer on the project, in a news release. “We are fortunate to have incredible scientists on our team that can analyze decontamination and sterilization of the respirator structure.”
Sandia is pursuing partnerships to help complete the testing phase and assess cost-effective production methods. If the research shows the mask meets certification requirements, Sandia plans to license the design to manufacturers.
Parties interested in partnering with Sandia for the continued development of the reusable, all-day respirator may contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.