LOUISVILLE, Ky. — University of Louisville (UofL) researchers developed N95-style face masks that are washable and reusable. It's something that could change the game as medical-grade single-use N95 masks are in short supply during the pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • UofL researchers have developed an N95-style face mask that is washable and reusable, a potential game-changer since N95 masks are often hard to come by

  • Researchers teamed up with Advanced Energy Materials to develop and patent the technology

  • The special coating on the fabric allows the mask to maintain efficacy even after dozens of washes

  • AdhviQ is helping produce the masks, and they hope to receive FDA authorization soon

UofL Speed School of Engineering student, Luke Loughran, is helping with production of this product.

"I think our hope is to save more money for hospitals and stuff once we get FDA approved, so that they can reuse these masks over and over without having to use one and throw it away," Loughran said.

The UofL researchers teamed up with Advanced Energy Materials, a manufacturer affiliated with UofL, to develop and patent the technology. Engineering student William Lewko explained that the key is the coating of the material.

“The coated material that is on the fabric allows it to be washed, but still stops diseases and particles from passing through it. Even after 10 washes, it will have the same 95% block rate that regular, disposable ones have,” Lewko said.

The technology was created by researchers at UofL's Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research and the UofL Advanced Manufacturing Institute of Science and Technology. Mahendra Sunkara, a UofL chemical engineering professor, said this N95-style masks is unique because it uses nanowire-woven fabric that can be washed and reused multiple times, while still being able to filter down to 0.1 microns.

The researchers teamed up with Advanced Energy Materials, a company Sunkara founded, to develop and patent the technology. Then, a new company located on the university's campus, AdhviQ, licensed the technology and started manufacturing it using materials from Advanced Energy Materials.

Those involved hope this technology will help keep health care workers safe, as personal protective equipment (PPE) can be in short supply.

“Now, with the shortage of masks and how it is part of everyday life, it’s pretty crazy to see the impact it has on people,” Loughran said.

The students also said the reusable N95 is better for the environment.

“It’s pretty cool to know that what I am doing is going to have a direct impact on front line workers and our day-to-day activity,” Lewko said.

When Loughran started working with AdhviQ in the fall, they were making the masks by hand. Now, a machine helps churn out about 50 of the N95-style masks, plus about 100 three-ply non-surgical masks per minute. The products are available for sale on AdhviQ's website. The company expects to receive FDA certification soon.