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East Japan venture develops copper fiber sheet that hastens virus particle inactivation

A face mask with an antibacterial copper fiber sheet applied is shown in this photo taken on April 8, 2020. (Mainichi/Minami Michioka)

MAEBASHI -- A thin sheet of copper fiber that can speed up the process of inactivating virus particles, potentially stopping them from causing infections, has been developed by a university-based startup in collaboration with a local textile manufacturer here.

The Gunma University-based venture Gunma University Development & Innovation (GUDi), in the Gunma prefectural city of Kiryu, and Meisei Industry Co., a manufacturer of tinsel wire in the prefecture's capital Maebashi, joined together to create the versatile item. It is hoped it will go to market soon and be adapted to a variety of existing products.

The sheet has a semipermanent sterilization effect which causes virus particles to become inactive, meaning they lose their ability to cause infections, and is at the same time harmless to the human body. Among its preventative uses against the coronavirus, it can be worn over face masks or used to cover electrical light switches.

According to studies conducted in the United States, the coronavirus can live and remain active on a copper surface for four hours. Research shows this is considerably shorter than the 48 to 72 hours the virus can live on plastic or stainless steel surfaces for.

The sheet developed by the innovators in Gunma Prefecture, eastern Japan, has a visible light-responsive photocatalyst applied to its copper surface. Whenever the sheet is exposed to light, it activates substances with high oxidizing power that break down virus particles and bacteria. An experiment using E. coli found that a copper fiber sheet is 1,000 times more effective in fighting bacteria than copper alone is.

Hideyuki Itabashi, executive chairman of GUDi and a professor at Gunma University, commented, "The material used breaks new ground for preventing mass outbreaks of the virus, and we would like to have it out there soon." The company is also searching for manufacturers that can incorporate the sheet into products such as masks and gloves.

(Japanese original by Minami Michioka, Maebashi Bureau)

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