Pioneering UK manufacturer, Promethean Particles (‘Promethean’), is collaborating with textile companies and leading research facilities to explore the anti-viral effects of its novel copper nanoparticles designed for use in fabrics and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the healthcare sector.

Dr Selina Ambrose, Technical Manager at Promethean Particles, said: “At Promethean, we have traditionally developed nano-copper for the printed electronics market, due to the conductive properties of copper. Copper is also well known for its antimicrobial properties and during the past few years we have researched this further in the funded Innovate UK project, ACTIn.

“We are now looking to take that a step further to consider the potential effect copper could have on viruses. If we can show evidence of anti-viral properties from the testing currently being carried out, then it’s particularly relevant to the current Covid-19 outbreak, and we may see a lot more urgency in its development.”

Promethean Particles played a key role in the ACTIn project, funded by the Newton Fund, which saw Mexican and UK companies and research institutes successfully develop durable antimicrobial textiles for the healthcare sector. By embedding nano-copper into polymer fibres, such as nylon, via a melt extrusion process, it was found that the antimicrobial effect lasted longer than other similar antimicrobial fabrics on the market, which tended to be surface-coated and therefore lose functionality with each wash.

Now, in conjunction with the Mexican research institute, CIQA, and textile trade association, NWTexNet, fibres embedded with copper nanoparticles manufactured by scientists from Promethean, have been sent to independent laboratories in the US and UK for anti-viral testing to ISO standards. If certified, it could open the door to the manufacture and supply of nonwoven fabrics and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as garments, face masks, hats, uniforms and bed linen, which is resistant to viruses - such as the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 - and will offer much needed improved protection for frontline health workers.

By using nano-copper, as opposed to larger copper particles, a smaller mass of active material is required to achieve the same antimicrobial effect bringing both cost and process benefits to the manufacturer.

Dr Ambrose added: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, this research was a strategically important focus area for both the UK and Mexico due to the significant economic and social impact of healthcare acquired infections that lead to extended patient stays in hospitals, higher healthcare costs, and thousands of deaths globally each year. With current events, clearly it has become absolutely critical that progress is made now.”

Promethean says there is potential to further develop its nano-copper materials for use in coating applications for door handles, handrails and beds within the healthcare sector.

The company, a developer of high specification nano-materials for a wide range of sectors, is also in talks with a manufacturer to develop a transparent antimicrobial coating containing its nano-copper technology suitable for glass. Ideal for incorporating into a range of touchscreen personal devices, as well as those found at train stations, cinemas and fast-food restaurants, the coatings would inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould on surfaces. By using nano-copper particles, glass transparency is retained.

Dr Ambrose added: “For most applications, having both antimicrobial and anti-viral functionality will be of huge benefit to manufacturers.

“Our nanomaterials offer many advantages over others on the market. Our liquid dispersions are easier to process and provide a more effective, functional final product. We are pleased to say that the success we have seen with our work with CIQA to date has provided us with the opportunity to supply more of our copper dispersions to them for other projects they are leading.”

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