Business & Economy

Anti-microbial copper materials could assist coronavirus fight

By Patricia Nieto Mariño

Santiago, Apr 23 (efe-epa).- Known as the world’s largest copper ore producer, Chile also leads the way in the production of anti-microbial copper materials that may provide a boost to the global struggle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Even before the arrival of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), this South American country that accounts for 28 percent of global copper output already was a pioneer in the use of the red metal to combat fungi, bacteria and viruses.

Thanks to government investment, Chilean state-owned copper mining company Codelco more than a decade ago began developing a technology that incorporates copper particles into surfaces or materials and thereby transforms them into anti-microbial agents.

The company that was tasked with launching this initiative, Copptech, now exports its technology to the United States and several countries in Asia and Europe, where it is applied to medical materials, textiles and to surfaces and coatings for plastic materials, such as paint.

The CEO of that Chilean company, Francisco Silberberg, told Efe that “the spread of the coronavirus could be combated by applying a copper varnish to public transportation, airport, hospital and school infrastructure.”

He added that doing so would provide those materials with “anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties for 10 years.”

Humberto Palza, who holds a doctorate in materials science from the University of Chile, agrees.

“The idea is that instead of having to disinfect the surface (after droplets from an infected person land on them) the surface itself can eliminate the virus,” he said.

Other companies that use this technology are joining the fight against Covid-19.

The startup Copper 3D, a Chilean and US-based company, pioneered the design of a respirator-style face mask that is intended to be 3D-printed from a polymer that includes a nano-copper additive.

The company says that to date there have been 5 million downloads of its so-called NanoHack design, which is being further improved through an online campaign under the hashtag #HackThePandemic.

Palza, who has led various copper-related studies, told Efe that research on the use of that metal as an anti-microbial agent began in Chile and that this industry has seen strong growth over the past 25 years.

“We hope that in a few years there’s a big market worldwide for plastics and other materials (that have) copper with anti-viral and anti-microbial properties,” the academic said.

Laboratory tests worldwide in recent decades have shown that copper is capable of killing 99 percent of all bacteria and also is a lethal weapon against many viruses.

In 2015, a team from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom even demonstrated that this metal could serve as a potent shield against pathogens such as the swine-flu virus and the A-flu virus.

With the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, a research group at the University of Chile led by Dr. Aaron Cortes launched a study (still ongoing) that hypothesized that the behavior of the novel coronavirus in relation to copper would be similar to that of other, previously analyzed pathogens.

“So far, with viruses from the same family, meaning with previous SARS, we’ve had the same results: copper has always been anti-viral,” Cortes told Efe.

Copper acts like soap on grease, the doctors explains, “and when the particles of the metal enter into contact with the membrane that covers the virus, a layer of glycoproteins, the exterior breaks and the virus is destroyed.”

That group’s findings are supported by those from a study recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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