Starting in April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented surge for demand of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the materials to manufacture them. In response, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) launched the "Made in Canada filtration material for the manufacture of N95 respirators and surgical masks" COVID-19 challenge—under the Innovative Solutions Canada program. With this challenge, the NRC aimed to assist Canadian companies in developing permanent and significant domestic production capacity of these materials in Canada.
The NRC and materials specialists at the NRC, in collaboration with Innovative Solutions Canada, challenged small and medium-sized businesses to come up in a very short timeframe with innovative solutions for filtration material that could be made in large quantities to manufacture essential PPE items in Canada. The filtration material would be used to produce N95 respirators and surgical masks for our many front-line workers across the country.
The NRC invested over $200,000 as part of Phase 1 to support 3 companies working on different strategies to respond to this important challenge:
- Roswell Downhole Technologies (Calgary, Alberta) worked on repurposing an existing extrusion line to produce conventional polypropylene meltblown for the manufacture of conventional disposable surgical asks and respirators
- Stedfast Inc. (Granby, Quebec) worked on the development of a filtration fabric based on alternative materials for the manufacture of reusable surgical masks and respirators
- Performance Biofilaments Inc. (Burnaby, British Columbia) worked on the development of a cellulosic compostable filtration material for the manufacture of disposable surgical masks and respirators
Through this Phase 1 funding and through scientific and technical support provided by NRC scientists to evaluate the properties of the resulting filtration materials, these companies demonstrated the feasibility of their ideas and developed working prototypes.
Two projects were granted Phase 2 funding, to scale up the production of filtration materials for respirators and masks.
The NRC is proud to announce that 2 Canadian companies were successful in meeting challenge objectives:
- Roswell Downhole Technologies Inc. was successful in building capacity to produce conventional polypropylene meltblown fabric with over 95% particle filtration efficiency and excellent breathability. As of November 2020, this Calgary-based company is producing 58 tonnes per month—equivalent to 58 million masks per month—and supplying Canadian mask manufacturers producing medical-grade surgical masks and respirators.
- Stedfast Inc. succeeded in developing a fabric with over 98% filtration efficiency while meeting the standards for breathability. This fabric was developed to be reusable, extending the product service life and reducing the environmental footprint.
These 2 companies are the first in Canada to complete Phase 2 of an Innovative Solutions Canada challenge. Their resolve demonstrates how Canadian ingenuity, supported by public policy, can have a meaningful impact, improving the lives of all Canadians.
As Canada responds to the ongoing pandemic, the NRC continues to collaborate with industry and partner organizations to help companies advance their R&D efforts in support of COVID-19 priorities. Visit Innovative Solutions Canada's website to see other COVID-19 projects the NRC is working on.