Troy University, based in Troy, Alabama, has received a $3.5 million federal grant to help fund its research and development of methods to recycle personal protective equipment (PPE).
The production, sale and use of PPE, most commonly face masks, gloves and their packaging, has escalated in 2020 in reaction to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Established medical waste companies such as Stericycle have been increasing their attention to the proper handling of PPE, although not necessarily focusing on recycling.
The Troy University center receiving the funding has traditionally focused on polymers and plastics research and recycling.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded Troy’s Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences (CMMS) a three-year grant, which the university says is the third NIST grant awarded to the CMMS.
“The first two NIST grants were to set up the lab, and this one is to fund particular research projects,” says Dr. Govind Menon, director of Troy’s School of Science and Technology. “We are entering into the academic research phase of the center. This $3.5 million goes directly to research projects.”
The funding will allow TROY to hire four staff members to focus solely on research. “These are not faculty,” says Menon. “They’re here to do research and only research.”
Menon said the CMMS research, performed in collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Engineering, will aim to establish a full procedure, from decontamination to applications of the resulting materials, to recycle discarded PPE.
“We have already started the PPE part of the research, and we are beginning our analysis on how to reuse the materials,” Menon said. “This is certainly important with the pandemic in mind, but it’s relevant even beyond the pandemic. Medical PPE is something people have been afraid to touch, largely because of contamination. This is absolutely vital research, otherwise the waste generated by PPE will be enormous, in addition to existing waste.”
Founded in 2018 with support from the NIST, Troy University describes the CMMS as a fully integrated multi-disciplinary research facility focusing on research into polymers and polymer recycling.