A new sterilization technology could be the key to safely reusing disposable face masks. Researchers have figured out a way to rapidly disinfect and electrostatically recharge N95 respirators, recovering their original filtration efficiency and protection capability against COVID-19 and other airborne diseases.

The technology could restore an N95 respirator’s original filtration efficiency of about 95 percent, even after 15 cycles of treatment. The technology fights coronavirus by using corona discharge — ambient atmospheric pressure plasma. The technology works by simultaneously deactivating pathogens on a mask and restoring its electrostatic charges. It is nonthermal, meaning it doesn’t require extra heating, and doesn’t require chemicals or contact, making it safe and convenient to use. It’s reusable and safer than ultraviolet (UV) radiation and uses a low-power consumption technique — requiring only 1.25 W of electricity.

The researchers are collaborating with a medical device design company to turn their prototypes into products. They are also working to develop handheld surface screening devices to sterilize homes, hospitals, and other public areas.

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