• 11/2/2020

MedTech OneWorld Students e.V.

Half a million masks for Africa

Masks made from coffee filters for the African continent? A group of TUM students pursued this idea with great success: half a million masks have just been shipped to Ethiopia. Fabian Jodeit from the TUM Chair of Medical Materials and Implants knows the details.

Fabian Jodeit with face mask Uli Benz
Better filter properties than surgical masks: Fabian Jodeit from the TUM Chair of Medical Materials and Implants and his team have developed alternatives made of meltblown material.

Fabian, in the wake of the Corona crisis, your association is sending 510.000 face masks to Ethiopia.  How did this happen?

Fabian Jodeit: Our association MedTech OneWorld Students e.V. has already carried out several charitable projects – for example in the context of our Global Health Challenge, where student teams develop medical devices or equipment and compete against each other. I still have intensive contacts to Ethiopia from the time of my Master's thesis. Because of the Corona crisis, we were unable to repeat the challenge this year, so we thought about what we can do instead.

There is a high demand for face masks due to the Corona pandemic.

Right, and we always try to do something that helps the people directly. The idea was brought to us by Dr. Wolfgang Krahl from i.nez. He wanted to make face masks from coffee filters. What's great about this idea is that such a mask can, theoretically, be produced for half a cent. We thought that was interesting, so we put together a small team of six students and started researching together with Dr. Kahl.

Fabian Jodeit, TUM Vice President Prof. Juliane Winkelmann, Ambassador Bereded Anemute Kebede, and Consul Ubah Mohammed Hussien (from left to right). Uli Benz
Handing over the COPE check for half a million face masks to the Ethiopian Consulate General: Fabian Jodeit, TUM Vice President Prof. Juliane Winkelmann, Ambassador Bereded Anemute Kebede, and Consul Ubah Mohammed Hussien (from left to right).

How exactly should we imagine this research?

First of all, we started researching the standards for masks and contacted research institutions that could help us to carry out tests on coffee filters. Since we are a non-profit organization, we do not have the financial means to simply hire a renowned laboratory.

You got help from a Max Planck Institute.

Dr. Frank Drewnick, head of the Department of Particle Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, was so fond of our idea that his laboratory carried out the tests for us free of charge.

How did the coffee filters perform in the tests?

We tested various coffee filters. The first thing we noticed is that, unfortunately, single-layer filters are not efficient enough to be used as a surgical masks. However, we wanted our masks to be at least as good as the commercial ones.

And the two-layer filters?

In the tests with two-layer filters, the particle separation efficiency in the relevant size range was fine – but the pressure difference between the inside and the outside was problematic. It would not have been possible to breathe properly using such a mask.

Was that the end of the road for coffee filters?

Yes. In principle, we had to abandon the idea of coffee filters. We started looking for other basic materials, and we contacted coffee filter manufacturers. When we contacted a well-known German manufacturer, we found out that they had come up with the same idea. The manufacturer had also already started to produce masks on his machines – not from filter paper, but using a meltblown fleece fabric. So we carried out tests with these masks.

With what result?

It turned out that the masks have much better filter properties than surgical masks. On average, the filter properties are 40% better across all particle sizes, which is almost as good as an FFP2 mask. The manufacturer finally provided us with half a million raw masks, i.e. without the rubber bands attached.

What happens now with these raw masks?

The final challenge was to transport four tons of material to Ethiopia free of charge. Through our research projects, we have good contacts with the Ethiopian Consulate General in Frankfurt, and the Ethiopian Ministry of Health became aware of us. Their Corona Taskforce finally agreed to pay the transport costs.

Can the masks be used immediately in Africa?

The masks are punched on site by our cooperation partners, fitted with elastic bands and then handed over to the Ministry of Health. The local authorities will take over the task of distributing the masks to the people.

(Interview: Sabrina Czechofsky)

Fabian Jodeit is a research assistant at the Chair of Medical Materials and Implants at TUM. In the winter semester of 2016-17, he traveled to Ethiopia with a 3D printer in order to develop components for leg prostheses together with local experts – as part of his Master's thesis on medical technology in developing countries. This impressed more and more students, and the MedTech OneWorld Students e.V. research association was formed.

In addition to the research projects at the department and the mask project COPE, the association is also starting a toothbrush production project on Madagascar together with a German dental association, and the members will accompany local missions. Students of all disciplines and especially new students are always welcome. Contact: fabian.jodeitspam prevention@tum.de. More information: https://medtechoneworldstudents.wordpress.com/


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