Designers create home-grown biodegradable face mask made from bacteria

With the government advising that we wear face coverings in public spaces where we can’t social distance – everybody wants to get their hands on a face mask.

But these face masks are hard to find in the shops, so plenty of people are resorting to making their own masks – using a whole range of household objects and innovative designs.

But Garrett Benisch and Elizabeth Bridges of Sum Studio have taken things up a notch.

The designer duo has created a microbial cellulose face mask that you can actually grow in your own kitchen.

The pair has have designed a prototype for an alternative to the N95 mask, which has a polymer-based filter made of artificial non-woven plastic fibers.

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But this new mask offers a more sustainable approach to personal protective equipment.

‘As bio-designers, we often look at moments where synthetic chemistry hits a wall and ask ourselves if this bottleneck would have occurred in a world more invested in bio manufacturing,’ explains Garrett in a statement.

‘Our natural world is rife with filters, membranes, and woven barriers that are ready to be utilized or mimicked. While impressive in their own right, the greatest assets of these materials are that they can be made at room temperature, that they are abundant, and that they are biocompatible and capable of helping the planet rather than harming it.

‘To prove just how accessible these materials are, we decided to grow our own bacterial cellulose face mask in our home quarantine kitchen while ideating some possible ways that this prototype could be iterated to function just like the melt-blown N95 fabric that is in short supply.’ 

The mask is made of bacterial cellulose, a by-product of a common bacteria called xylinum acetobacter. Garrett and Elizabeth say you can grow the bacteria with a few simple ingredients at home.

All you need is water, tea, sugar, and a small bacterial sample of xylinum acetobacter, which can be found in unflavored kombucha.

Bacterial cellulose is created by a common bacteria, called xylinum acetobacter, on the surface of a liquid that they inhabit.

As the bacteria multiply, they knit cellulose fibers into a single membrane that can be harvested and dried as a workable material.

The material looks completely see-through to us, but microscopic images show the tight web of cellulose fibers that make up this incredible knit.

Once the material is thick enough, it can be removed and hung to dry as a flat sheet. This sheet is flexible and strong, yet easily degrades into the environment.

The entire process of making a mask takes around two weeks; and Garrett is confident that production could be scaled up really quickly.

If you give this a try – we want to hear how it goes.

Get in touch: [email protected]

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