Novel fabric coating to prevent COVID transmission
November 24, 2021
OKANAGAN, BC – A University of British Columbia Okanagan researcher has seized a golden opportunity to find a silver bullet for COVID-19. While exploring anticorrosion coatings, the pandemic hit and Dr. Seyyedarash Haddadi (pictured) quickly pivoted to apply his graphene research towards virus prevention, devising an antiviral material for face masks to thwart transmission of COVID-19.
In doing so, he invented a novel compound that is a first-of-its-kind, low-cost and more than 99 per cent effective antimicrobial fabric coating. Made from a graphene oxide and silver combination, it has just received Health Canada approval and is being incorporated into millions of face masks for sale worldwide.
The breakthrough work has earned Haddadi the Mitacs & NRC-IRAP Award for Commercialization, awarded by Mitacs, a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.
Haddadi – a post-doctoral fellow working under the supervision of Dr. Mohammad Arjmand of the UBC Okanagan, School of Engineering – is being recognized for his innovative work to develop the first-ever graphene oxide-based material approved for consumer use as an antimicrobial fabric coating.
Working with industrial partner Zentek (formerly ZEN Graphene Solutions) and under the direction of Dr. Colin van der Kuur in a Guelph, Ontario-based lab, Haddadi discovered that covering super thin sheets of patent-pending oxidized graphene with silver resulted in extraordinary antiviral and antibacterial properties. Further testing showed that his invention, incorporated in a surgical mask, reduces transmission of active pathogens by more than 99.99 per cent, including COVID-19 viral particles and bacteria.
“The final product is made from a silver-coated graphene oxide sheet, less than one nanometer in thickness, that we disperse in water and then spray on the surface of fabrics,” said Haddadi, explaining that no solvents or toxic chemicals are added to the compound, resulting in an odorless coating that is safe for consumer use. “When we apply it to an average four-ply face mask, we coat the inner layer so that nothing is on the exterior of the mask,” he added.
After receiving Health Canada approval in late September, Zen Graphene Solutions made its first commercial sale of the novel coating – marketed as ZenGuard™ – to TreborRX Corp. of Collingwood, Ontario, which plans to launch what it calls a “game-changing” four-ply mask. Zentek is also investing $6 million to build its own manufacturing capacity to produce enough coating and coated materials for up to 800 million antimicrobial face masks per month by early next year.
“After announcing our invention, we heard from many companies around the world who are interested in partnering with us to test and use this coating on their fabrics,” Haddadi said. The appeal, he added, is that only a very small amount of the coating is required to effectively deactivate pathogens. “One gram of material is sufficient to coat 300 masks, making this a very affordable large-scale solution,” he said.
A graduate student from Iran, Haddadi said he is grateful for the opportunity to study in Canada and that Mitacs funding has made his research possible. “Mitacs helped me commercialize my research in two important ways,” he said. “First, as a graduate from university in Iran, Mitacs introduced me to research and industry in Canada, and secondly, the stipend Mitacs provided enabled me to focus on my research and discovery so I didn’t have to find a second job and could focus on developing my research.”
The Mitacs & NRC-IRAP Award for Commercialization is presented to a Mitacs intern for an idea brought from research that is now available on the market or has strong support that it is soon to be commercialized. Haddadi is one of eight Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining seven recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation, commercialization or exceptional leadership in other areas of research.
In congratulating the winners, Mitacs CEO John Hepburn remarked on the importance of providing Canadian innovators with opportunities for experiential skills development through strategic partnership between industry, government and academia.
“Collaborative innovation is a proven and productive approach to research that ultimately helps to deploy top talent within the Canadian economy,” Hepburn said, noting that Mitacs is honoured to play a role in helping to advance important research within Canada. “Whether our researchers develop groundbreaking ideas by tapping into resources across our country or through international collaboration, their breakthrough work is benefitting all Canadians – and it’s this talent that is shaping the future of innovation.”
For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit www.mitacs.ca/newsroom.
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. They are funded by the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia along with the Government of Alberta, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Yukon.