Australian company SPEE3D has successfully developed and tested a fast and affordable processes, dubbed ACTIVAT3D, to 3D print anti-microbial copper onto metal surfaces. Laboratory tests have shown that this process ‘contact kills’ 96% of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in just two hours, on any plastic and metal surface.
Copper has been shown to be quite effective in killing Coronavirus, with at least one published study demonstrating that, while the virus can last days on plastic and steel, it dies on copper in under four hours.
The process, known as ACTIVAT3D copper, has been developed by modifying SPEE3D 3D printing technology, using new algorithms for controlling their metal printers to allow existing metal parts to be coated with copper. One key advantage of using a cold-spray process, besides the process’ inherent affordability and speed, is that it is a cold process and can thus be modified to be easily applied to both metal and plastic surfaces.
360Biolabs, an Australian NATA accredited clinical trial specialty laboratory, tested the effect of ACTIVAT3D copper on live SARS-CoV-2 in their Physical Containment 3 (PC3) laboratory. The results showed that 96% of the virus was killed in two hours and 99.2% of the virus was killed within 5 hours, while stainless steel showed no reduction in the same time frame. Stainless steel is currently the material typically used for hygene in healthcare environments.
With laboratory testing complete, this breakthrough may soon be applied to common items such a door handles, rails and touch plates in hospitals, schools and other public places.
SPEE3D CEO, Byron Kennedy said the company focused on developing a solution that can be rapidly deployed and is more efficient than printing solid copper parts from scratch. “The lab results show ACTIVAT3D copper surfaces behave much better than traditional stainless, which may offer a promising solution to a global problem. The technology can be used globally addressing local requirements, be they in hospitals, schools, on ships or shopping centers.”
SPEE3D developed the unique technique to harness copper’s proven abilities to eradicate bacteria, yeasts and viruses rapidly on contact by breaking down the cell wall and destroying the genome. This is compared to traditional surfaces like stainless steel and plastic, with recent studies showing that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on these materials for up to three days.
Stainless steel and plastic surfaces can be disinfected, however, the problem with these surfaces is that, even with rigorous protocols, it is impossible to clean them constantly. When surfaces become contaminated, touching them may contribute to superspreading events. Touching contaminated objects, known as fomite transmission, was suspected during the 2003 SARS-CoV-1 epidemic and analysis of a nosocomial SARS57 CoV-1 superspreading event concluded that touching contaminated objects (fomites) played a significant role2.
To validate their abilities to combat COVID-19, copper sample parts printed by SPEE3D were lab-tested and shown to kill SARS-CoV-2. The SPEE3D team thus developed a process to coat a stainless-steel door touch plate and other handles in just 5 minutes. The digital print files were then sent to participating partners around the globe, allowing the simultaneous installation of newly-coated parts in buildings in the USA, Asia and Australia. In a matter of days, copper fixtures were installed in buildings at Charles Darwin University (CDU) in Darwin, Swinburne University in Melbourne, the University of Delaware in the USA and in Japan.
“Scientists and engineers at the University of Delaware were honoured to be part of this global research collaboration,” stated Assistant Director of Digital Design and Additive Manufacturing at the University of Delaware, Larry (LJ) Holmes. “We recognized the importance of developing simple, yet highly impactful, solutions that have been proven effective on COVID-19. Recognizing supply chain shortfalls over the last couple of months, it was clear to this team that fabrication speed was a priority. Using this technology, we are able to rapidly transition safe options for high-touch surfaces.”
SPEE3D worked in close collaboration with the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (AMA) at CDU. The initial testing of ACTIVAT3D copper and future studies have been funded and supported by the National Energy Resources Australia (NERA). NERA CEO Miranda Taylor is convinced that SPEE3D’s ability to successfully adapt their technology and pivot their business model demonstrated the resilience of Australian businesses and their potential to help the world combat COVID-19. “NERA has supported SPEE3D to develop market-leading technologies to help our national energy sector,” Taylor said, “and we’re committed to assisting them to leverage their skills and expertise into this important new paradigm to help our country and many others curtail the devastating impact of this global pandemic.”