Rapid Decontamination System of PPE and Medical Equipment for Reuse using Flexible Non-thermal Plasma Generator

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


This project aims to develop a method and procedure for decontaminating mask/respirators using non-thermal plasma for safely reuse. As a respirator is a basic personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect frontline healthcare workers against COVID-19, the chronic, global shortage of N95/N99 masks is one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives from the coronavirus. The reuse of masks may need to be considered as a crisis capacity strategy to ensure continued availability, even though most of the masks are considered one-time use. Moreover, a single-use mask is adding to the glut of plastic pollution threatening the health of oceans and marine life, environmentalists warn.

In this project, we are developing a rapid and safe dry decontamination method through adapting the state-of-art plasma technologies and printed electronics. The proposing approach will use the viricidal capability of non-thermal plasmas to decontaminate masks without using biocidal chemicals and remaining any chemical residues. The project will ensure the safe reuse of masks with maintaining structural and functional integrity with the biological and material assessments.

Specific objectives of the project include (1) preparing and validating coronavirus samples; (2) developing a plasma decontamination system; (3) quantifying concentration and distribution of biological samples before and after plasma treatment; (4) measuring the effect of plasma treatment on mask performance; (5) quantifying viral inactivation efficiency; and (6) collating and interpreting results to assess the efficacy, promise, and potential implementation pathway for the concept. Through opening up re-use of masks, this project will provide a new solution for current PPE shortage for acute global mask shortage and minimise plastic pollution.


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Description The measured viral decontamination and filtration efficiencies show that the developed plasma decontamination system can achieve a 4-log reduction for the coronavirus without reducing the filtration efficiency of masks after 5-minutes of plasma exposure. The developed plasma decontamination system demonstrates the feasibility to tackle the acute shortages of FFRs in many countries and their environmental and economic burdens against discarding reusable masks.

We note that the degradation in filtration efficiency after 30 minutes treatment (3 times of decontamination process) is significant, exceeding the standard by an order of magnitude, and is therefore unlikely to meet BS-EN 149 specification. Reducing the filtration efficiency by long plasma exposure can be related to electrostatic filtration in the FFR.
Exploitation Route As the decontamination efficiency of plasma is influenced by both exposure time and plasma intensity, we can use plasma dose as a parameter to suggest the minimum exposure time depending on the size of PPEs and the power of a plasma source, which can develop the appropriate procedure of an actual PPE decontamination process. Thus, the outcome of this funding can be used to determine the plasma dose for different PPEs and other surface decontamination applications. The this funding outcome can also be used to provide some guideline for number of PPE reuse safely with maintaining its filtration efficiency.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare

URL https://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2021/10/plasma-decontamination-ppe.page
Description Our finding has increased the public awareness of the growing waste & recycling problems from PPE. We have demonstrated a new method to safely clean and reuse facemask respirators with advanced low-temperature plasma technology. Our finding used to show public that used PPEs can be reused safely through plasma decontamination technology. Therefore, we showed that the developed plasma technique could reduce approximately 70% of plastic waste caused by facemasks and reduce economic burdens on low-income countries by reusing facemasks. Our finding is also used to demonstrate that a plasma decontamination method can can help future pandemic responses by providing contingency options should a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare staff occur again.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Environment,Healthcare
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Enabling Technologies Programme (ETP) and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Call Two - Technology for Space Science
Amount £201,476 (GBP)
Organisation UK Space Agency 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2023 
End 04/2024
Description NHS Future Hospital Initiative
Amount € 250,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 4000140067/22/NL/AL/mma 
Organisation European Space Agency 
Sector Public
Country France
Start 01/2023 
End 12/2024
Title Non-thermal plasma disinfection system for sensitive material 
Description A novel dry surface disinfection system using non-thermal plasma is developed, using a surface DBD. An optimised electrode configuration of the system allows disinfect thermally sensitive materials without damaging surface. The system is assessed against E. Coli K-12, SARS-CoV2, and Bt spores, and showed 100% reduction, 4 ~ 5 log-reduction and 8~9 log-reduction, respectively. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact The developed system can be used to reduce bio-burden of sensitive equipment, including satellites and medical equipment. 
Description Interview (Azo CleanTech) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media interview and coverage: It increased the public awareness of PPE-related issued. It also shows how advanced plasma technology can be used to solve our environmental and health problems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=1217
Description Newsletter 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Finding of the project has been released through media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://phys.org/news/2021-10-plasma-technology-safely-disposable-ppe.html
Description Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium Space Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture: approx 80 public audiences attended for Winchester Science Centre Space lecture, which increased the public awareness of plasma technology on COVID-19 response.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022