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Forestry researchers have cellulosic solution to plastic face masks

FP Innovations develops filter media made from sustainable wood fibres
FP Innovations mask 2
FP Innovations has successfully developed a biodegradable filter for face masks, made from wood fibre. (FP Innovations supplied photo)

A forest sector R&D organization said it's close to coming up with a completely homegrown, sustainable solution to replace disposable plastic masks.

FPInnovations said its researchers have developed a filter for a biodegradable, disposable face mask made from wood fibre that performs better than single-use personal masks made from petroleum-based plastics.

The organization said it's successfully developed a cellulosic filter media, with the middle layer of a three-layer mask made from wood fibres, which is suitable for single-use face masks for public use.

The cellulosic filter media is made from a blend of hardwood and softwood fibres.

The average filtration efficiency of its filter media is currently at 60 per cent, FPInnovations said, surpassing the average filtration efficiency of a typical cloth mask which is approximately 30 per cent.

The firm asserts the Canadian pulp and paper industry could meet the mask procurement needs of this country "within weeks" without having to retool production lines and make large investments in new equipment.

It could also provide "significant export opportunities" that could be developed within very short timelines.

FPInnovations believes this also solves a growing environmental problem that the demand for disposable plastic masks has created.

With funding for Natural Resources Canada, the Quebec-based non-for-profit research centre said it came up with the solution within eight weeks.

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The next step in their research is coming up a fully, biodegradable, disposable mask made from Canadian wood fibres for domestic, and possibly global, use.

The organizations said its efforts are now aimed at further improving the filtration efficiency of the media to meet requirements for surgical masks, which may lead to potential new uses of the filter medium such as in air filtration systems.

"The innovations being developed in the area of cellulosic fibres open the doors to new markets," said Stéphane Renou, president-CEO at FPInnovations, in a Sept. 16 statement.

"This is further evidence that the forest industry can offer much more than people realize."

FPInnovations said the Canadian industry "regrows as many trees as it harvests," putting the sector out front as a global forest management leader with more than 170 million hectares or 38 per cent of the globe's certified forests.

Only 0.2 per cent of Canada's forests are harvested annually.

FPInnovations performs leading edge research, advanced technologies and delivers innovative solutions to the forest sector's operations and value chain from its R&D labs in Quebec City, Montreal, Vancouver, and it's technology-transfer offices across Canada.