Award Abstract #2031223

RAPID: Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation for Disinfecting and Reuse of N95 Respirators

NSF Directorate:
ENG - Directorate for Engineering
NSF Division:

Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems

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Program Manager:

Bruce Hamilton

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Kaiming Ye [email protected] (Principal Investigator)
Guy German (Co-Principal Investigator)


SUNY at Binghamton

NSF Program:
EnvS-Environmtl Sustainability
EnvS - Environmental Sustainability
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Hospitals across the US are facing shortage of medical supplies, especially personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 respirators. Consequently, there is a time-sensitive and critical need to find alternative means to keep medical professionals protected while caring for COVID-19 patients. Most PPE such as N95 respirators are designed for one-time use. For COVID-19, maintaining the supply of N95 respirators has become gravely challenging, as new supply has not matched the consumption rate. Moreover, disruption of global supply chains under lockdown also contributes to the shortage. There is an urgent need to develop effective technologies or toolboxes to help frontline healthcare workers have the PPE needed in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In this study, the research team will collaborate with clinical investigators in the Infectious Control Division at the New York Upstate Medical University and United Health Service (UHS), a community hospital treating COVID-19 patients, to develop ultraviolet (UVC) germicidal irradiation technology to disinfect and reuse N95 respirators. UVC irradiation has been investigated in the past to decontaminate N95 masks; however, its effectiveness on COVID-19 contaminated N95 masks is not well established. The overarching goal of this research is to fill this gap and generate new knowledge for effective disinfection and reuse of N95 respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sterilization technologies such as low heat, vaporized hydrogen peroxide gas (VHPG), UVC germicidal, etc. are being tested by several groups of investigators for decontaminating N95 respirators. Unlike VHPG, UVC sterilization does not require sophisticated instrumentation. A UVC sterilization unit can be built easily with relatively simple materials. It is more suitable and operable in medium size and community hospitals where COVID-19 patients are not as numerous as in medical centers located in large cities. The proposing research team has developed a UVC bath station capable of disinfecting 960 N95 respirators a day, and 1,920 a day if two stations are used. However, currently key data are not available to validate the efficacy of these sterilizations. This study is designed to provide this data and to generate new knowledge in order to improve efficiency of UV germicidal irradiation. It is also unclear whether ozone generated during UVC irradiation improves disinfection. A fundamental study will be performed to elucidate the impact of ozone on UVC sterilization. Furthermore, the research team will explore high wavelength UVC for disinfecting coronavirus-contaminated N95 respirators. The use of high wavelength UVC irradiation should reduce chemical degradation of the polymers of N95 respirators, extending their lifetime. This study is targeted to provide comprehensive data and analyses on UVC N95 mask disinfection. This data is essential for an unbiased assessment of the decontamination technique, and will provide insight into the extent to which coronaviruses can withstand UV irradiation. Studies on ozone and high wavelength UVC irradiation will provide new knowledge for designing a better UVC N95 mask sterilization system. It is anticipated that the results of the research will help guide future governmental decision making about how to manage and adapt to PPE shortages.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.