Copper takes aim at Covid-19 with virus-killer coatings
| May 14th 2020 | 2 min read
At an outer suburban manufacturing plant, engineer Byron Kennedy is resetting a machine to spray-print a layer of copper on to a door handle, aiming to use the metal’s antiviral properties to counter the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic.
His firm Spee3D is better known as a producer of 3D printers for copper and aluminium, used by customers including the Australian defence force and US Marines to rapidly print new parts to get broken equipment back in action without waiting days for spares to arrive.
“Up until the end of last year, our business was building the 3D printers, which were then used to build parts,” Spee3D co-founder Kennedy told Reuters.
“Come 2020, and the epidemic hits. We know about the antimicrobial properties of copper, so we thought ‘Can we do something, can we help out here?’”
Copper’s disinfectant powers have long been known, and its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties have been supported by scientific studies.
Spee3D commissioned Melbourne laboratory 360 Biolabs to look at how SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, reacts to copper surfaces.
The results showed that 96 per cent of the virus was killed off in two hours and 99.2 per cent in 5 hours, compared to no change on stainless steel surfaces over the same period, Kennedy said.
This is in line with a US-government funded study published in March that found SARS-CoV-2 remained viable for up to four hours on copper, compared with two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
Spee3D then reset some of its machines to be able to coat surfaces such as door handles and push plates, and has already received orders from two Australian government departments to resurface door handles before staff return to work.
The Northern Territory’s Trade, Business and Innovation Department said in a statement it was thrilled to adopt the technology to make its workplace safer. The firm is also speaking with a big miner and several major door handle manufacturers about additional applications, Kennedy said.
Copper had already been making some inroads into the healthcare sector after trials in hospitals, including in the US state of Virginia.
However, attempts by fabricators in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to sell copper alloy products into the sector resulted in only a modest take-up, partly due to costs, said John Fennell, Chief Executive of the International Copper Association Australia.
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