Manufacturing Bits: May 19

Virus simulations; anti-virus coatings; social distancing devices.


Virus simulations
Using an advanced building simulator and testbed, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is launching a study of the risk of airborne transmission of viruses in buildings.

Researchers will also explore the ways to mitigate those risks. The experiments will take place in Berkeley Lab’s FLEXLAB, which is an advanced building simulator. Used by builders, architects and government agencies, FLEXLAB is used to test ventilation systems by simulating heating and air-conditioning configurations in buildings.

In the new virus experiment, researchers will look at these and other conditions to study the transport of droplets and aerosols in and between rooms. They will not be using the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus for testing.

Respiratory fluid is expelled when a person coughs or sneezes. Fluid also surfaces when people talk, sing or breathe. It’s worse with Covid-19. Respiratory fluids can land directly on people who are close by or fall on other surfaces. They can also get mixed into the air in the room and move into other rooms.

The focus of the research is to assess that risk. Researchers will use a combination of simulations and experiments to study the issues. “As our leaders develop plans to get people back to work safely, we want to apply our expertise in air movement and contaminant removal to inform guidance,” said Brett Singer, head of Berkeley Lab’s Indoor Environment research group. “We’re trying to understand quantitatively what is the risk level under different scenarios of occupancy when you’re doing, for example, normal ventilation or extra ventilation or extra filtration.

“There’s research now that the novel coronavirus actually is very stable in aerosols. And there is previously published evidence of long-range airborne transmission of other viruses, including the SARS virus in 2003,” said Singer. “Understanding how much virus remains airborne is essential to assessing the risk and identifying effective controls.”

Anti-virus coatings
Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev and the National Institute of Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN) have developed an anti-coronavirus surface coating.

Researchers are developing novel surface coatings based on nanoparticles. These are based on safe metal ions and polymers with anti-viral and anti-microbial activity.

Covid-19 is transmitted via respiratory droplets. It also remains stable on various surfaces for days. On the Diamond Princess cruise ship, for example, virus particles were found even after 17 days, according to researchers.

Researchers found that surfaces coated with copper ions can block the infection of the cells by the virus. Researchers are developing anti-viral coatings that can be painted or sprayed on surfaces.

Josh Peleg, chief executive of BGN Technologies, said: “The need to develop anti-viral coatings has greatly increased recently, with the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, and this need will likely remain high even after the pandemic ends, due to increased awareness. In addition, the product will be efficient as a general anti-viral and anti-bacterial coating. It can be applicable for medical settings, as an anti-pathogenic substance in places with increased risk of contamination, such as hospitals, but also for home use, and in public spaces such as schools, airports, public transportation and cinemas. We see a widespread and multidisciplinary academic commitment for finding solutions to currently medical and financial challenges as well as to the challenge of returning to normalcy once the pandemic wanes.”

Mark Schvartzman of the Department of Materials Engineering at BGU, added: “While current surface disinfection methods rely mostly on substances that are poisonous for people, such as bleach, or on substances that evaporate readily being based on alcohol, the coating that we are developing is based on metals that are toxic for viruses or bacteria, but completely human friendly. It should be noted that until now using such metals for anti-viral applications has encountered significant challenges due to the nature of the metals, such as the tendency to oxidize and corrode. Nanoparticles provide a solution to these obstacles. Another advantage of nanoparticles is the large surface area to volume ratio, which results in an efficient anti-viral surface area using a relatively small amount of metal. Additionally, nanoparticles of anti-viral metal can be easily embedded in a polymer that can coat the relevant surfaces for extended periods of time.”

Social distancing devices
Lopos, a spin-off of Imec and the Ghent University, has rolled out an RF wearable safety device for companies that want to restart in-person activities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The wearable, called SafeDistance, warns employees through an audible or haptic alarm if they violate social distancing guidelines. The solution guarantees privacy of the user.

SafeDistance is based on Lopos’ ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, which was originally developed at Imec and Ghent University. This RF technology enables a safe, highly accurate (<15cm error margin) distance measurement.

Lopos is scaling up the production of the device after trials at companies in the chemical, metal and construction industries. The SafeDistance wearable is available starting from €99 per device without recurring costs.

“In this particular case, Lopos is building on Imec’s software expertise for ultra-wideband and sub-GHz, positioning technology and advanced hardware design, developed within Imec’s R&D program for next generation ultra wideband technology solutions,” said Michael Peeters, program director of connectivity at Imec.

“In order to limit the spread of Covid-19 as much as possible, it is crucial that we adhere to the social distancing guidelines set by international health experts and governments. The SafeDistance wearable is an intuitive solution that endorses social distancing guidelines in a professional environment. Employees can easily carry the wearable via a clip on the hip or a lanyard and rest assured that they are working within a safe distance,” explains Jen Rossey, chief executive of Lopos. “Our solution works as a standalone solution; no gateway, server or other infrastructure is required, no personal data are logged.”

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