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A Necessary Filter: Nonwovens Institute Steps Up to Combat COVID-19

Nonwovens Institute ramps up to create mask filters and masks for health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.

Photo of mask material production line in NC State's Nonwovens Institute. Play Video
The Nonwovens Institute (NWI) at North Carolina State University is proactively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the full support of NC State, NWI is dedicating its meltblown and spunbond nonwoven making facilities and expertise to produce specially designed fabrics that can be delivered to U.S. manufacturers to assemble face masks. Photo by Marc Hall

For Immediate Release

There’s no shortage of NC State ingenuity when it comes to combatting shortages of personal protective equipment used by health care workers and first responders.

NC State’s Nonwovens Institute (NWI) is using its two research and training pilot production lines to produce face mask materials that will be used to protect medical workers on the front lines of fighting the effects of COVID-19.

Surgical face masks are made with nonwoven materials, says Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of NWI, Wilson College of Textiles associate dean for industry research and extension and William A. Klopman Distinguished Professor.

N95 respirators and surgical masks are generally a sandwich of one or two common nonwoven layers – so-called spunbond layers that provide mask shape and protect the inner filtration layer – combined with a layer of nonwoven meltblown material that serves as the filtration layer and captures microscopic unwanted particles like viruses and bacteria.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, we took the spunbond technology and created a new generation of unique filters.

But because of the current critical need for masks caused by COVID-19, Pourdeyhimi and his NWI team created a new spunbond material that can serve as an effective filter without the need for a meltblown filtration layer. The unique fabric is composed of two different polymer materials that are combined to make a single fiber with significant strength and bulk – and that shows effectiveness in filtration similar to current materials used.

“Because of the COVID-19 crisis, we took the spunbond technology and created a new generation of unique filters that have excellent filtering capability and can potentially be reused after cleaning with peroxide, or potentially alcohol solution,” Pourdeyhimi said. “Because these materials are strong, unlike classical meltblown filters, they can also be cut and sewn by traditional techniques.”

Typically, one meter of spunbond material provides enough material for about 20 to 25 masks when using the current designs, Pourdeyhimi said. One of the NWI’s production lines started producing 2,000 meters of spunbond material per hour, with the potential to create some 20,000 meters of spunbond material in a day. NWI currently has an agreement to provide large amounts of spunbond nonwoven material to Brooks Brothers, which will make masks at its manufacturing facilities.

NWI’s other production line is a state-of-the-art meltblowing pilot line that will make the classical meltblown material for N95 masks and surgical masks.

“We created a recipe for the production of classical N95 respirator materials and will ship those materials out for industrial partners to convert these into respirators,” Pourdeyhimi said.

The meltblown material takes a bit more time to produce; Pourdeyhimi estimates that his production line can make about 12,000 meters of material in one work shift.

Thanks to support from across the university, Pourdeyhimi says that NC State has ordered machines that will allow the NWI to make surgical masks in its Centennial Campus facilities. Those machines should arrive in the next month.

“We will set these machines up and take our own materials and convert them into masks and provide them to local communities,” Pourdeyhimi said.

Pourdeyhimi said the outpouring of support offered internally by units such as the Office of Research and Innovation, the Office of Finance and Administration, the Office of the Provost, the Wilson College of Textiles and The Kenan Institute, as well as externally by industry partners, has been overwhelming.

I’ve never seen the community come together the way it has.

ExxonMobil, for example, offered polymer materials to the university at no cost. Mask material production eats up approximately 25,000 pounds of polymer per week. Chemical manufacturing company NatureWorks has also offered polylactic acid (PLA) polymer for this effort. PLA is in short supply, but NatureWorks has secured the supply for NWI to ensure continuous production.

“North Carolina has the largest number of nonwoven companies in the nation, so we are reaching out to them to see if they would also invest in converting machines (that would turn mask materials into masks),” Pourdeyhimi said.

He added that, in order to increase the capacity of meltblown fabrics, “We are looking at possibly changing the way companies are producing things so that we might be able to produce filters that would be useful during this crisis. We are putting a lot of partnerships in place to be able to expand the amount of materials that are available both locally and nationwide.

“I’ve never seen the community come together the way it has.”

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  1. Hello! Thank you for your wonderful work! Where can I purchase this material so that I can make masks for my two children that are going to NC State University? I want to keep them safe. Thanks!

  2. Where can I find and buy this spondbund material to line for mask done at home? Please respond so I can help people who does not have money for expensive mask. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your contribution to all communities during this pandemic. I’m a grandparent stepping in helping out with my grandkids and daughter to keep safe is this fabric available to purchase to make masks or there’s a way I can place a order for mask. Continue the good work at hand. Peace and Love.

  3. I’m designing a mask that consists of only two parts, with the filtering material sandwiched in-between. Would it be possible to get a sample of your material you’ve designed to filter out the airborne corona virus?

    Thank you!

  4. I am a school nurse in Colorado, making masks for the local National Guard and homeless shelters. The soldiers are expected to wear masks but are required to provide their own. I am told our unit will be assisting the homeless and I am very concerned about ensuring the masks we teachers and nurses are making will protect the soldiers from any air or fluid borne bacteria or viruses, especially COVID-19. Will your products be available for purchase by the public? May I have contact information sent to me? I especially want to support USA made products. Thank you!

  5. My son is a graduate of NC State. I have been googling for best material for making surgical masks. I learned about spun non woven polypropylene medical grade material but looked like it was all in China. Are you the first to do for US and considering the non woven plants in NC. I’m a CNA and we are depressed for having to wash out 100% cotton for ineffective masks in presence of asymptomatic COVID’s. Can I get material? This is so awesome. Can’t wait to tell my son!!!!!!!!

  6. This is wonderful news and of the work you are doing.
    I am a Wolfpack parent and a HCW, physician in a community based hospital in Staten Island, NYC.
    My friend owns a small business embroidery store- Wicked Stitches, she has been making cotton surgical caps and masks for the HCWs in NYC by donations of the generous community. We are thinkig of making better/improved masks, and I’ve done quite a bit of research myseld re nonwoven material that ca be used for masks. But what you have is amazing and I would like to know how we can avail of this material to provide improved home made masks , not only for HCWs and community.
    I am hoping that you will be able to accommodate this request.
    Thank you very much.
    Amar Kaur(Wilkinson
    parent of a Wolfpack class 2022

  7. Dear Sir, Mam,
    Thank you very much for this write up.
    I am working in a rural hospital in India.
    We do not routinely use N95 masks.
    The Covid pandemic has raised the need for these masks. And the costs are high.
    We are planning to prepare N95 masks with spun bound material. Using 90 GSM and 25 GSM.
    Can you please share the material used in this place.
    This will help us know if we are in the right track

    Thanking you

    John Jacob
    DNB Family Medicine,
    Christian Fellowship Hospital,
    Oddanchatram,
    Tamil Nadu, India.

  8. Nice work, Behnam! If anybody can do this timely, efficiently, and with a high degree of required component accuracy, COT can. Show the world NC’s capabilities.

  9. We will need to onshore mask production back in North America after CoVid epidemic and NC State is once again leading the way. Proud to be part of the Pack!

  10. I am d sperate to find something suitable for masks. I am in a small town area that doesn’t have as many people so we’re not getting free stuff from the government but we are out of medical masks. I’ve used up all the elastic and non woven material that I have. Amazon is out as well. What do we do…make masks with out the lining…I can make tie strings. Use three layers of woven fabric? What is best. The next mask I need to make is for a young mother that is a PA, with a 6 month old at home. Please help!

  11. Most excellent! Please consider helping smaller community hospitals who do not have the resources to properly protect their staff, even when part of a large healthcare system such as Atrium. Thank you for all you are doing!!

  12. This is excellent and impressive to see your innovation and rapid response for the need of medical masks. I own a small outdoor clothing manufacturing company, Wintergreen Northern Wear, located in Ely, Minnesota on the Canadian border. We have started making hospital gowns for local hospitals with fabric they have tested to make re-useable gowns. Everyone is scrambling to find the right materials. We are also making cotton masks in production style to get out to the community but even the hospitals are asking for them. We are doing what we can with our small company for northern Minnesota. Will you be selling this fabric? Could it be used for gowns also as well as the masks? Do you have suggestions for us? Thank you so much for all you are doing!

  13. There are no actions too large or too small in addressing what we can do for our fellow mankind during this pandemic.

    Passion and Innovation are the only contagous things you get from contact with the College of Textiles.

    All of us where ever we are, bound by think and do.
    Inspirational NWI actions, here’s to all of us to do our part.

    Brian Huss
    T.E.Class of 1990.

  14. I have been making cloth face masks for my family but would like to make more. Is it possible to get some of this fabric? I live in Raleigh North Carolina

    1. I’m wanting to make masks too. Would it be possible to acquire some of your new fabric for a filter in the cotton masks?

    2. I’d also like to know where to purchase a yard of this nonwoven material, just to make masks for my family. Thank you for all you’re doing to help during this unprecedented (in my lifetime) pandemic.