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Halifax researchers looking to make N95 respirators out of wood pulp

If successful, the new product could also benefit the Nova Scotia forestry sector, which suffered the loss of a major pulp plant in January.
By: Madeleine Hall
May 14, 2020
Photo: Nicholas Pfosi (CBC)

A group of researchers in Halifax, Nova Scotia have begun investigating the possibility of creating a wood pulp from regional trees that can be turned into N95 masks, patient gowns, and other medical supplies. The 10-month research project is supported by a $72,000 grant from Research Nova Scotia.

Canada has been plagued by PPE shortages since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and volunteers and manufacturers across the country have mobilized to meet the increased need. Harmac Pacific in Nanaimo, BC is currently Canada’s only producer of wood-based medical pulp. Harmac’s product mixes red cedar pulp with synthetic fibres, and is turned into PPE by a US manufacturer, some of which is then shipped back to Canada.

The team at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax will attempt to devise an all-wood pulp, suitable for creating PPE, mixing fir and spruce: "We want to see if in the chemistry lab, through some clever and innovative chemistry, we can transform the pulp that we have into something that would be suitable for a medical-grade pulp," chemist Christa Brosseau told CBC. "We're going to look at whether we can make an all-wood pulp N95 respirator by doing chemical modifications in the lab and we'll be getting a heat press to form our own paper out of this modified pulp.”

If successful, the new product could also benefit the Nova Scotia forestry sector, which suffered the loss of Northern Pulp in January, leaving hundreds out of work.

Sources: CBC, Globe and Mail

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