N.S. chemists work with mill to create medical-grade pulp for N95 masks

N95 MASK

A team of chemists at Saint Mary's University in Halifax is looking at methods to help East Coast mills produce pulp that can be used in the N95 respirator masks that have been in high demand during the global pandemic.

Christa Brosseau, the lead researcher on the project, says fresh methods are needed to manufacture a supply of the gear used to protect against COVID-19.

The professor is partnering with Port Hawkesbury Paper LP, based in Cape Breton, to determine how to use balsam fir and spruce fibre to produce the pulp needed for the masks.

The scientist says the current N95 masks are typically composed primarily of synthetic polymer materials with cellulose sometimes incorporated into one of the layers that make up the respirator.

Her research team, in collaboration with organic chemist Robert Singer, also of Saint Mary's University, are beginning work next month to come up with ways to allow fibre from the East Coast's softwood species to become the prime material to make the masks.

They envision adding a chemical step to the thermomechanical pulp production used in mills, which initially heats wood chips with steam and then grinds them before the fibre is pressed and bleached.