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What If Your Face Mask Could Kill Coronavirus With Electricity?

Popular Mechanics logo Popular Mechanics 6/5/2020 Courtney Linder
a close up of a flower: What if your face mask could actually help fight the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic? Two companies have reportedly developed an antimicrobial textile. © Radoslav Zilinsky - Getty Images What if your face mask could actually help fight the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic? Two companies have reportedly developed an antimicrobial textile.
  • Two Japanese companies, Murata Manufacturing and Teijin Frontier, have reportedly developed an antimicrobial textile, according to AFP.
  • The material, called PIECLEX, uses kinetic energy from your movement to generate a low level of electricity.
  • This lets the fabric zap microorganisms to prevent them from reproducing.

Could your face mask actually help fight the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic? It's a vision of the future that two Japanese firms are hoping to make a reality with a new e-textile that can reportedly inactivate microorganisms on the spot.

It's called PIECLEX, and it uses your kinetic energy to generate electricity that helps to zap bacteria and viruses, according to a report in AFP. Murata Manufacturing and Teijin Frontier, the two companies behind the textile technology, tout PIECLEX for use in everything from odor control to protective face masks.

"It has been effective on 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses we tested, working to curb their proliferation or inactivate them," a Murata spokeswoman told AFP on Friday. However, considering this is just a company report, and the underlying methods haven't yet made it into a peer-reviewed journal, we'll proceed with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The firms have a lofty goal of engineering the textile for use in COVID-19 prevention, but that could take quite some time to accomplish. After all, biological and chemical protective coatings like PIECLEX are notoriously difficult to engineer—not for a lack of technology, but for a lack of access to the viruses or bacteria in question. Not just anyone can gain access to samples of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to 2001 research in Reactive Coatings Literature Review, antimicrobial textile studies generally rely on surrogates or analogues to test their effectiveness. Bacillus globigii, a species of black-pigmented bacteria, is used as an analogue for mustard gas, for example. In effect, it becomes much more arduous to ensure the coatings will actually stand up against the real biological or chemical threats that scientists have set out to protect against.

The other complicating factor? Biocides created for commercial textiles can induce bacterial resistance to those substances, according to 2017 research in the Principles of Textile Finishing. Still, technologies like SilverClear have made it to market. The molecules in that coating contain two types of silver ions that work together to tear away at the bacteria's walls, destroying its genetic material.

For now, continue to wash your hands, wear a face mask while in public, and maintain social distancing to stay safe.

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