A manufacturing business with a Northern Ontario graphite reserve, ZEN Graphene Solutions, has developed a mineral-based solution that when added to personal protective equipment (PPE), destroys the COVID-19 virus.
A graphene-based virucidal ink coating was produced by the Thunder Bay and Guelph-based business that can be applied as an agent to N-95 masks or fabrics that indicates that third-party laboratory research is 99 percent successful in making the COVID-19 virus inactive, providing health care staff an additional layer of security.
ZEN Graphene, west of Hearst, has a high-grade graphite deposit which was first found in 2011.
The anti-viral ink formulation they have come up with is from a refined graphene substance collected at its Albany deposit near Constance Lake First Nation from bulk sample material removed.
Earlier this year the firm submitted the ink substance to the biosafety lab of Western University in London, Ontario to assess its usefulness in destroying the virus.
Calls began to flood in from multinational PPE manufacturers, including Trebor Rx CEO George Irwin, within days of ZEN publishing the exceptional lab findings in September, contributing to ZEN signing a binding letter of intent with the Collingwood-based maker.
Trebor expects a patent-pending reusable respirator mask that will use ZEN’s graphene-based virudical coating to obtain Health Canada clearance immediately to launch early development this month.
Trebor plans to employ between 80 and 100 workers to produce more than 700,000 masks a day for a manufacturing facility in Collingwood by early 2021. The ink may be added with a dip coating or spray coating on face masks, gowns and other materials.
ZEN hailed the signing of the contractual agreement as a “watershed moment” for the group.
It’s crazy,” said Greg Fenton, Chief Strategy Officer of ZEN, marveling at how easily the transaction fell together.”
The initial order for Trebor is to provide at least 100 million masks with appropriate ink coatings.
A three-ply surgical mask with ZEN viricidal protection would also be carried out by Trebor.
Yet many more producers may be in the mix.
Fenton said they have made calls from more than 30 companies in Australia, South Africa, South Korea, Denmark, and the United States since the announcement of their test results on Sept. 22.
Because of its versatility, resilience and capacity to conduct heat, graphene is considered a miniature, multi-faceted miracle substance.
A carbon nanomaterial that can be used as an ingredient in auto parts, automotive coatings, lubricants, lithium-ion batteries, high-strength concrete, water desalination and purification membranes is the graphene commodity ZEN developed at its Guelph R&D store.
ZEN developed a combination graphene and silver nanoparticle-infused oxide ink for this specific bio-medical solution that had been reported by researchers to destroy earlier forms of the coronavirus.
Fenton said its coating approach for recyclable masks provides a major saving for health care facilities and fewer pollution from landfills, provided that the global demand of disposal masks is 129 billion per month.
As Trebor ramps up in Collingwood for complete development come January, ZEN is doing the same.
The organization also doubled the size of its testing facilities in Guelph to 4,000 square feet, while further leasing 10 minutes away a 26,000-square-foot building that will act as a 2021 industrial manufacturing center.
ZEN collaborated with the University of Guelph to develop a patented method for converting Albany ore into top-quality graphene oxide for shipping, aerospace, bio-medical, civil engineering and water treatment applications.
Because of the legitimacy of their reporting standards as a mining corporation, Fenton is unable to elaborate on their production output outside their Nov. 9 press release.
It remains to be seen how things would finally turn out for the company’s Albany deposit in northeastern Ontario.
The land found just off Highway 11 has been dubbed the “freak of nature” of high-purity graphite.
What this has achieved has provided us with a great precursor material for graphene processing,” Fenton said.”
A tentative economic assessment (PEA) was published by the former ZEN management, then known as Zenyatta Ventures, in 2015, predicting an open-pit life of 22 years with the capacity to generate 30,000 tons of graphite annually.
They have six tons of content on hand, collected from a 110-tonne bulk sample taken in the winter of 2019, Fenton said. Their regional authorization requires another 900 tons of ore to be harvested. In addition, they will have to receive extra authorization or acquire a mine permit to actually begin mining.
It doesn’t require much graphite when it comes to producing graphene.
“Fenton said To put this in context, one gram of graphene will cover half a football field. It’s extremely small, but only a fraction of graphite is the volume of graphene that you really need to be successful.”
He said it is possible that the mine layout would be significantly changed from what was initially planned.
If the burgeoning global graphene industry were to really take off, industrial demand will definitely be in the low thousands of tonnes with the potential to scale up.
ZEN started the environmental review process more than a year ago while planning for mining activities, but activity was placed on pause earlier this year due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. In 2021, they intend to restart the process.
Before spending another year to do the mine permitting work, Fenton said the firm is around a year away from finishing the environmental evaluation.
There was some internal company discussion on whether to upgrade the PEA, but it is a daunting job to attempt to put an exact valuation on their content in order to conduct an economic analysis, provided that the graphene industry remains in its early stages.
“Fenton said It’s actually better for us to go and start taking tonnes out and selling tonnes on the street, setting the price rate, to be willing to tell, here’s what the deposit is worth. For us, it’s a little bit like chicken and egg.
When we start marketing our ink, the opportunity to know that the consumer is selling our ink, and how much we’re selling it for, we’re going to be able to work backwards. I’m not sure that we’ll really need a PEA at that stage.
“We will probably finance it and go right to output while we are getting substantial cash flow from this venture.”
This close-to-commercial deal with Trebor, Fenton said, would not place their other future business lines focused on graphene on the backburner. He expects the organization to report a large amount of news in the next six months.
“Right now it is a wonderful spot to be.”