New partnership will tackle surface transmission of COVID-19

A project to develop surface treatments that can provide long-lasting protection against the COVID-19 virus has been launched at BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, the research will see the development of new antiviral sprays, films, and other products. These can be delivered via additives in existing commercial products, such as detergents, or integrated with current packaging processes, forming an invisible and long-lasting film of sub-micron thickness. Unlike existing disinfectants, the formulations will be designed to both capture the aerosol droplets and inactivate the virus.

The research is being carried out over the next 18 months in partnership with the University of Cambridge and three key industrial partners – Dupont Teijin Film (DTF)Innospec, and FiberLean – with the aim of rapidly commercialising the formulations produced.

A key focus during the first phase of the project will be to better understand the underpinning antiviral mechanism. This is important because recent evidence suggests different surfaces can affect the ability of the COVID-19 virus to survive.

For example, we know the virus can remain active for several days on smooth surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel, but for only a few hours on newspaper. Surface characteristics such as porosity, rigidity, and roughness all affect the virus’s viability, and the team aim to draw on their expertise in soft matter, surface chemistry, formulation engineering, and microbiology together with the product development capabilities offered by the industrial partners.

Project lead, Dr Zhenyu Jason Zhang from the University’s School of Chemical Engineering, explains: “Scientific work so far suggests that COVID-19 is transmitted via aerosol droplets that not only carry but very likely protect the virus. The products we are developing will disrupt such protective environment, leaving the virus exposed and unable to survive once the aerosol droplets land on a communal surface such as handrail, table top.”

Of the three industrial partners, Dupont Teijin Film is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of polyester film that is used extensively for face-shields, food packaging, and digiprint; Innospec develops and manufactures additives as performance chemicals; whilst FiberLean is a global manufacturer of micro-fibrillated cellulose that is used in packaging and other applications as additives. They all have decade long partnership with the School of Chemical Engineering at Birmingham via the internationally renowned Centre for Formulation Engineering.