The COVID-19 pandemic created a high demand for various coronavirus control solutions, such as masks and disinfectants. By the spring of 2020, this medical equipment, which is often produced outside Québec, was in short supply. However, such products could be manufactured within the province, for example, using forestry-sourced cellulose fibres. Some plants contain molecules known for their disinfectant properties. Since the beginning of the health crisis, Innofibre, a college center for technology transfer at Cégep de Trois-Rivières, has been working on the development of cellulose-based products in partnership with private companies in the pulp and paper and bioenergy sectors.

Some plants contain molecules known for their disinfectant properties.

Jean-Philippe Jacques, director of the innovation centre for cellulosic products, and his team of 43 employees have developed, among other things, filter membranes for N95 masks, masks in thermomoulded pulp, antiviral products based on extracts from forest products, and organic surface disinfectants. To date, laboratory tests to evaluate the effectiveness of these bioproducts have been conclusive. The filter membranes for surgical masks developed by Innofibre filter close to 95% of fine particles from the air. What’s more, they are more easily recyclable and compostable than their synthetic fibre equivalents.

The technology readiness of these solutions is such that some could be commercialized in 2021. To that end, Innofibre is working on improving production processes and adapting manufacturing infrastructure in its pilot workshop and, eventually, at its industrial partners. Ultimately, these projects will contribute to maintaining and creating jobs within these companies, while strengthening Québec’s autonomy with respect to its supply of medical equipment. Students from the Diploma of Collegial Studies in Eco-Development and Bioproducts, a program offered exclusively at Cégep de Trois-Rivières, are involved in this work.