The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the need for materials and surfaces that kill or suppress the virus to help reduce airborne and surface-based virus transmission. With expertise in 3D printing antimicrobial biomaterials the research group refocused their efforts to investigate antiviral materials that could combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
The interdisciplinary project was led by the University of Wolverhampton’s John Robinson, Dr Arun Arjunan and Dr Ahmad Baroutaji, who partnered with the Ángel Serrano-Aroca’s group from the Catholic University of Valencia’s Biomaterials and Bioengineering Lab for rapid material development and anti-Covid-19 viral analysis.
“Covid-19 virus transmission can be indirect through airborne droplets or direct through contaminated surfaces. Therefore, the ability to control the transmission of the virus is critical to reduce the spread and limit the unknown long-term effects," PhD researcher John Robinson said.
“Also, with new variants emerging, and a concern that a vaccine evasive strain may evolve, there is further emphasis on the requirement for enhanced transmission control and prevention. The requirement for long life masks and mask filters that can be disinfected is essential," Robinson said and added: "As the pandemic continues to evolve, various situations are likely to appear unpredictably. To enable an immediate response and rapid solution, we created an antiviral material that could be 3D printed, and therefore can create antiviral surfaces when and where they are needed.”
In the project, the team have been using selective laser melting (SLM) 3D printing technique to create a novel antiviral copper-tungsten-silver material.
Silver is known to have antimicrobial properties, however, the relatively high-cost offers challenges for large-scale implementation; particularly in regard to single-use products. Similarly, copper has been highlighted as having anti-Covid-19 properties with the advantage of having a relatively lower cost compared to silver. Recent studies have reported Covid-19 viral inactivation of 99.2 per cent in five hours using copper coated surfaces.
Although limited, there is also emerging research that tungsten also has antimicrobial effects against common pathogens such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
The project investigated combining these three elements to fabricate a novel antiviral material that can be 3D printed to create touch surfaces and filter geometries while having superior anti-Covid-19 viral properties. “Our antiviral material displayed a 100 per cent viral inactivation within five hours against a biologically-safe sample of Covid-19. This is a significant improvement on the previous copper coating results as all of the Covid-19 virus is eliminated," Robinson said.
“As such the copper-tungsten-silver material developed in this study could be utilised to reduce both surface contamination and the airborne spread of the Covid-19 virus. We hope that this material could have a number of uses including building filtration systems and face mask filters; for example in this project we used the antiviral material and 3D printing technology to create proof of concept mask filters for an open-source 3D printed face mask.”