Tech Talk: Manufacturers Develop Products Designed To Kill Bacteria And Viruses

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Is the world any closer to finding a way to prevent the spread of coronavirus? The answer is yes, and the solution might start with face masks, but not the standard medical- or non-medical grade masks we’ve been wearing. Recently, Japanese companies Murata Manufacturing and Teijin Frontier developed PIECLEX, an antimicrobial material that can use a person’s kinetic energy to generate low levels of electricity, which can kill bacteria. Adding PIECLEX to face masks could take personal protection a step further in circumventing the spread of certain illnesses. 

This move toward manufacturing consumer products that can effectively prevent the spread of bacteria is needed, but it can also be a long and arduous process. Part of the challenge, writes Popular Mechanics, is simply because manufacturing facilities do not have easy access to samples of bacteria, so they often use substitutes. Bacillus globigii, a species of black-pigmented bacteria, for example, is used in place of mustard gas, which can cause large blisters to form on the skin and lungs of those exposed. So, if a company develops a product to protect against mustard gas, there’s no telling whether it will be effective against analogue bacteria and testing is required to determine the outcome. Another downfall, according to Popular Mechanics, is that biocides—chemicals made to prevent harm from occurring to another organism—can also trigger bacteria to become resistant. 

But on the road—literally—to developing products that will safeguard spread, Ford is making headway with protecting front-line workers, namely police officers, and those they serve. The automaker is adding a software patch that allows the interior of its police vehicles to temporarily heat to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus. Available for Ford’s 2013 to 2019 models of its police interceptor utility hybrid SUVs, the development is intended to protect the safety and health of police officers and their families, but also the people they are transporting and protecting, and their families as well. 

To identify the appropriate period of time and temperature, Ford worked with scientists from The Ohio State University. For 15 minutes a day, the car’s cabin can be set to heat up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit, killing 99 percent of viruses inside and allowing the car to sterilize itself. Officers will be able to determine whether the cabin heating is complete via the vehicle’s hazard lights and taillights, which flash sequentially to signify when the process has begun and when it is finished, and heating will not commence if the vehicle is occupied. 

So far, the patch is being installed into New York City police officers’ vehicles, and is available, free of charge, to police officers nationwide through Ford dealers. And although the software patch does not claim to kill all strains of the virus, and isn’t yet available to consumers, it is a step in the right direction for a stronger (and safer) future.


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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