The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. Difficulties supplying personal protective equipment have increased the risks to front-line medical personnel battling the virus. N95 masks, the hospital standard for trapping most potential problems (when fitted properly), have been in exceedingly short supply, creating dangerous working conditions for medical workers.
Breathe99, our Cool Idea Award winner, has developed a new-form mask called the B2, which can save lives with a new fit, high-quality filtration, and a rugged, sustainable design.
The Breathe99 Story
The roots of the company go back to 2013 when Max Bock-Aronson, Breathe99 founder, was living in Singapore as a study-abroad student, taking classes in mechanical engineering and air pollution engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). On cool nights he would run roundtrip from his host family’s apartment to NTU, about 15 minutes, then return.
“It was after one of these nightly runs that I found my throat was sore upon returning to the apartment,” said Bock-Aronson. “As it turned out, the air quality was poor at the time, due in part to slash-and-burn techniques employed in neighboring countries to clear fields for crops.” For the next several days, Bock-Aronson did research about what masks were available and was disappointed to find none provided the protection or aesthetic he wanted. That motivated him to create a better mask for daily breathing protection.
Updating the Medical Mask
The concept for the B2 mask is simple, but elegant. Two filter assemblies manufactured by Protolabs using molded polypropylene (PP) plastic are located on either side of the facepiece. PP provides good flexural strength and chemical resistance for easy cleaning. These are insert molded with a flexible thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) to create the facepiece of the B2, which creates a superior seal by flexing against a user’s face.
The filter assemblies hold disposable filters in place, locking them tightly in place, preventing air from leaking around the filter. Because the frame is flexible—and in fact, foldable—the mask is exceedingly portable. Stretchy fabric with straps wrap around the outside of the frame and around the user’s head, drawing the mask back toward the face, just as with other masks, but the flexible internal LSR component ensures a tight fit.
Protolabs quickly turned around three critical components for the B2’s filter framework:
- Filter cups
- Faceplate substrate
- Filter cap
Combined, these ensure that the filter assembly prevents outside contaminants from reaching the user, filter replacement is easy, and that the unit can be sterilized, as needed.
Kickstarter, Giving Back, and Support
Breathe99 has received support from dozens of individuals and organizations, and has received investments funds from the Venn Foundation, a social impact investing group. Breathe99 is re-registering as a Public Benefit Corporation, and plans to build an impact-oriented business model that advances public health benefits for everyone, especially underserved and at-risk populations. This helps both the company and the organizations it serves. Breathe99 hopes its Kickstarter campaign can eventually translate into a broad acceptance in the medical community, once the mask becomes more widely available.