Science and Technology

ReDuCe turns face masks waste into composites for different formulations

The research project started in September 2021 and aims to contribute to more sustainable construction works and to reduce the amount of plastic waste sent to landfills or incineration.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, face masks have become an essential accessory in our daily lives. Despite being crucial for individual protection, they are also a great environmental threat of soil pollution and ocean pollution. The “ReDuCe” project aims to address this issue by recycling used Type IIR face masks, thus contributing to more sustainable construction works and to the reduction of the amount of plastic waste sent to landfills or incineration.

The “ReDuCe” project is coordinated by the CERIS researcher Maria Paula Mendes, and will use recycled waste face masks as a composite material in construction works. The multidisciplinary team intends “to study solutions used in construction works such as mortars, non-structural concrete and filling layers”, explains Maria Paula Mendes.

“ReDuCe” started in September 2021. After defining the composites that will be used for the incorporation of mask waste, it is now time to optimise the formulations. “We have already carried out waste characterisation and several performance tests are in progress”, explains the project coordinator.

In the long term, the project’s objective is to develop products with a good price/performance/sustainability ratio, capable of competing with the existing constructive solutions. “We believe that what makes the European Union competitive in relation to the rest of the world is the European Climate Pact and all the other EU environmental policies and programmes”, stresses Maria Paula Mendes.

One of ReDuCe’s commitments is that the solutions developed can be part of the activity of BSCD companies, or companies from the former CUF group, at the final phase of product development. “We believe that this phase is an integral part of the project and essential to make a product competitive that meets the current requirements”, highlights the CERIS researcher.

In July 2021, the project was one of the winners of the Alfredo Silva Scientific Awards, in the amount of 25 thousand euros. “The team felt highly motivated and very pleased with this award. On a personal level, I felt the weight of responsibility”, said the Técnico researcher.

The project team is composed of professor Inês Flores-Colen (IST Department of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Georesources – DECivil and CERIS researcher), professor Carlos Oliveira Cruz (DECivil and CERIS researcher), professor Manuel Francisco Pereira (CERENA/DECivil), and Dr. Giovanni Borsoi (CERIS), professor Rui Galhano (CERENA/Department of Chemical Engineering- DEQ) and Dr Rui Silva (CERIS/DECivil). The team also includes the scholars and MSc students Bernardo Ramalho (DEQ), Júlio Veloso (DECivil) and Juliana Chen (Department of Mechanical Engineering). The project is developed in partnership with the textile company, Betinatêxteis, which closely collaborates with the Técnico scientists.

The project coordinator stresses “the structure of a project should not be closed”. “As new application perspectives and challenges emerge, we will look for new talent”.

The CERIS researcher underlines that although there are already other studies that aim to recycle surgical masks, these are “still at an experimental stage and far from what would be desirable”.