Czech technology for face masks is ready, but the investors are missing

1. 1. 2020

Since last year, the Czech Republic possessed technology that could prevent future problems of face mask shortages that affected the country during the start of the coronavirus epidemic. However it is important to find an investor who will invest in advanced production of nanofibre membranes.  

NAFIGATE Corporation has already developed and tested nanofibre membranes that can be used for the production of face masks, scarves and FFP1-3 class respirators, among other applications. “We have prepared an entire project for the production of these membranes and we have already arranged the production facilities,” said Lenka Mynářová from NAFIGATE.  

NAFIGATE focuses on research and development and has its own production know-how, and is currently looking for investors to finance this project. This has not been successful so far. The expected investment in the nanofactory will be around 100 million CZK. The project will take six to nine months to complete.  

The launch of nanofactory would strengthen the Czech Republic’s emergency readiness – the entire chain from development to final production would be located on domestic grounds and it would be possible to quickly increase the production of both respirators and face masks if necessary. The return investment for the project ranges from 2-4 years.  

Air and water filtration 

Face masks and respirators are not the only way in which the new Czech technology could be used. The nanofibre membranes are also to be used for air filtration in buildings in the form of cartridge filters and nanofibre filters for windows and doors. They can also be used for water filtration.  

“If the Czech Republic does not have its own production capacities, the situation in preventing and protecting the population from viruses and bacteria is unsolvable. Prevention must be ensured by filtration in buildings as well as for water,” Lenka Mynářová pointed out. NAFIGATE expects to produce up to 1,500,000 m2 of nanofibre membranes per year.  

According to Lenka Mynářová, the ultimate goal of the nanofactory project is therefore “to enable the Czech Republic to rely on its own strategic manufacturer of nano applications for preventive measures and emergency situations”. 

The nanofactory project is the result of intensive research and development that spanned eleven years. The antiviral and antibacterial properties of nanofibre membranes for air and water filtration have been demonstrated by testing done by the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine (IKEM) in Prague as well as in schools. The production technology and its products are already patented.  

Other Czech companies are also key partners of NAFIGATE within the project. “We produce on NanoSpider machines by the Elmarco company and laminate in cooperation with Tomatex Otrokovice,” said Lenka Mynářová. 

European support 

The development was made possible thanks to funding from European funds – the Operational Programme Enterprise and Innovation for Competitiveness (OPPIK). “This development was a continuation of long-term research in the Czech Republic,” added Lenka Mynářová. However OPPIK funds could no longer be used to start the production phase because the so-called seed funds financed by this programme are aimed in a different direction.  

Nonetheless, NAFIGATE intends to apply for European support, which will enable it to continue in further development. In the midst of the epidemic, the European Commission has launched an emergency call for start-ups and small and medium companies that can offer technologies or innovative solutions to combat the coronavirus.