Slowing the spread of COVID-19: developing anti-viral coatings for plastic-based packaging

“Our goal is to develop a range of polymer-based coatings for plastics-based packaging materials that would capture and kill viruses, such as COVID-19,” says Dr. Beth Mason. “The desired coatings would eliminate the need to disinfect many consumer-packaged goods as well as select medical equipment.”

Dr. Mason is the CEO of the Verschuren Centre where she leads the research team in bringing together large industry and community partners to develop and demonstrate innovative solutions, including nano-technology applications. Her team’s project aims to reduce the risk of indirect transmissibility from plastic packaging by developing innovative methods to improve the plastic’s resistance against coronaviruses and potentially inactivate such viruses upon surface contact.

“The transmission routes for these viruses are through droplet and airborne transmission,” says Mason. “However, we’ve seen the virus can also survive on surfaces for various lengths of time depending on a number of factors, including temperature.”

According to Dr. Mason, SARS-CoV-2 is stable and viable on plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours. Although the strength of the virus has been greatly reduced, she says it still poses significant risks of onward transmission. This is of concern as thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene and polyester are widely used as packaging materials and have become an integral part of the present economy.

“All Atlantic Canadians come into contact with packaging material in the run of a day,” says Mason. “The development of surface coating applications for packaging materials to ensure the virus is no longer capable of replication and onward transmission will help protect all of us.”

Studies have shown that the virus was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard. Dr. Mason and her team will be looking at the survivability of SARS-CoV-2 on a variety of differently modified plastics surfaces including nano metals, biopolymers and organic acids. Polymer expert, Dr. Avik Khan of the University of New Brunswick, is working closely with Dr. Mason on this project and recent grants from Research Nova Scotia and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF) will help propel their work forward.

“It’s an excellent example of pairing expertise from different regions to create a well-rounded project team to collaborate on a significant challenge,” says Dr. Laura Richard, Director of Research of NBIF. “Now more than ever, it is essential that we think beyond our provincial boundaries and explore opportunities for New Brunswick researchers to push their ideas further through collaboration with innovators outside of our province.

“This study is another example of how the many challenges presented by COVID-19 are being met by researchers in Atlantic Canada,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia. “This research could result is customized antiviral coatings for different surfaces including PPE and medical equipment as well as wider use plastics. It’s very exciting and Research Nova Scotia is proud to be supporting the work.”

The research project will reveal key insights into the correlation between surface properties and coronaviruses. If successful, the new technology will not only enhance personal and workplace safety by reducing contact surface transmission but will also present an opportunity for commercial application of the developed coating in Canada and beyond.

To further contribute to the Government of Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia’s efforts to address the COVID-19 outbreak, Research Nova Scotia (RNS) continues to provide rapid response funding from its Research Opportunities Fund. This fund was created by the Province of Nova Scotia to enable RNS to provide financial support to research projects that have the potential to benefit Nova Scotians.

Research Nova Scotia (RNS) is a not-for-profit corporation established to enhance research capacity and align research funding with provincial priorities. RNS invests in research that builds and translates knowledge to help ensure a sustainable and prosperous future for Nova Scotia.

An independent, private organization focused on venture capital and research funding. We help New Brunswick innovators solve globally relevant problems through research, solid advice and access to capital. We always represent the best interests of our portfolio. By leveraging their successes, we reinvest strategically to create new opportunities for New Brunswick.

The Verschuren Centre (VC) is an industrial solutions, development and deployment centre, advancing clean technology solutions, new business development and sustainable resource management in our key fields of expertise – Renewable energy, Bio-processing, Aquaculture and materials transformation.

Stephanie Reid
Director, Marketing and Communications
902.223.9450 |