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Covid-19: New algae-based respirator may help people wearing masks breath easy

The algae in the respirator conduct photosynthesis and remove carbon dioxide (C02) and other air pollutants while producing oxygen, making the air passing through it more breathable, the researchers from Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Punjab said.

PTI|
Last Updated: May 29, 2020, 01.33 PM IST
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The team said Oxigeno can filter out particles ranging from 10 to 0.44 micrometres with the help of four layers of filters.
New Delhi: Considering many people find it difficult to breathe comfortably while wearing masks to protect themselves against COVID-19, researchers have developed a multipurpose algae-based respirator which they say filters out 99.3 per cent of the harmful gasses and small particles in the air, while increasing the amount of oxygen passing through it.

The algae in the respirator conduct photosynthesis and remove carbon dioxide (C02) and other air pollutants while producing oxygen, making the air passing through it more breathable, the researchers from Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Punjab said.

They believe the four-layered respirator, called Oxigeno, will provide instant relief, especially to frontline workers who have to go through a lot of discomfort while wearing masks for long hours.

"Wearing a mask amid the ongoing pandemic is a must while going out in public places, but it causes a lot of discomfort for people who have respiratory problems, and for frontline workers who have to wear them for long hours," Jastin Samuel, a professor at LPU, told .

"With Oxigeno, we are solving this challenge by making a respirator that offers pure and more breathable air as well as a much better design," Samuel said.

The researchers noted that the existing N95 or surgical mask filters out pollutants and microbes but are incapable of removing pollutant gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen & sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

These masks are also unable to remove odours emitted by the disinfectants and cleansers which are prevalent in the enclosed wards of hospitals, they said.

The team said Oxigeno can filter out particles ranging from 10 to 0.44 micrometres with the help of four layers of filters.

These comprise of a HEPA filter, which keeps away dust particles, and activated carbon filter to remove VOCs and odours.

The other two layers are made of a nitrogen & sulphur oxide filter that stops harmful air pollutants, and PTFE filter for removing particles as small as 0.44 micrometre, the scientists said.

The sequence of their arrangement and the design is very critical for its efficiency, according to the team that includes LPU B.Tech students Deepak Deb, Anant Kumar Rajput, and Manish Kotni.

The additional algae cartridge further enriches the purified air with oxygen, which is especially helpful for those who are suffering from respiratory diseases like asthma, and feel suffocated and uneasy while wearing a mask, the researchers said.

They noted that the respirator can be reused by changing the algae cartridge and the filters.

To enable this, the team said, the respirator consists of an inbuilt sensor that will alert the user once the cartridge is nearing its life.

The algae cartridge has a life of around 40 hours of continuous use, or seven days, the researchers said, adding that the filters should be replaced after 48 hours of use, or every month, whichever time limit comes first.

The material used in Oxigeno is an antimicrobial and biodegradable plastic called PLA-Active, which prevents the growth of bacteria and other contaminants on its surface, they said.

The researchers also noted that wearing a mask for long hours causes rashes to people with sensitive skin.

To solve this, they used a silicon membrane around the nose and mouth area of the respirator which the researchers said is much gentler on the skin.

The university has filed a patent for the respirator which costs around Rs. 3,600.

However, they said the price can come down by 30-40 per cent with large scale manufacturing.
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