Researchers from Washington State University (WSU) are strengthening concrete with one-time use masks.

Diverting the disposable masks — which have increased in usage amid the COVID-19 pandemic — from the waste stream, the research team has made a concrete mixture featuring fibers from the disposable masks that is reportedly 47% stronger than traditional concrete.

To accomplish this, the team devised a process wherein mask fibers (ranging from 5 mm to 30 mm in length) from deconstructed disposable masks are immersed in a graphene oxide solution before being immersed in the cement paste.

Source: Washington State UniversitySource: Washington State University

The researchers suggest that the graphene oxide creates ultrathin layers that adhere to the fabric fibers, thereby enabling them to absorb and dissipate the fracture energy that contributes to the tiny cracks that develop in traditional concrete and subsequently lends to larger cracks and eventual material failure.

Going forward, the researchers are performing additional tests to see if the graphene oxide-treated microfibers may also protect concrete from frost damage and from deicing chemicals commonly used on roadways.

The article, Upcycling waste mask PP microfibers in Portland cement paste: Surface treatment by graphene oxide, appears in the journal Materials Letters.

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