By Dave Masters WalesOnline.
A small Port Talbot firm is leading the way in the fight against Covid-19 by developing a new material for masks.
Hybrisan has benefited from £40million made available by the UK government to fund the next generation of innovative businesses and companies.
They’ve also received a Smart Cymru grant from the Welsh Government to help expand operations.
Chief Executive Dr Lee Bridgeman, 57, and Technical Director Dr Chris Mortimer, 29, are now working round the clock on a new type of material for PPE.
“We’ve been working with the technology to make nonwoven material for years, but we started working on the development for masks at the end of March,” explains Chris. Since then, he and Lee have worked non stop. “It’s been chaos, crazy, 16-hour days, with not much sleep,” he says.
Hybrisan had already been working on the new material for wound dressings, but when the Covid-19 crisis hit they put all their efforts into using it as a way to combat the virus, backed up by Government help. The new masks are revolutionary because not only do they kill germs but they’re reusable too.
“We’ve had support from the Welsh Government with a Smart Cymru Grant,” says Chris. “It’s allowing us to really advance development and what we’re doing here is just dipping our toes in the water. We want to help people get back to work and help the NHS with their face masks in the face of shortages. But our long-term ambition isn’t to just do that, we’re looking at making the next generation of reusable masks. And that’s what the funding is for.
“We want to establish a UK supply chain so if there’s another pandemic there won’t be an issue where there’s no supply of PPE.”
Creating reusable masks is important to Lee and Chris because they’re well aware how many are being thrown away after being worn. “Over the last five or ten years everyone’s done a good job of recycling and it’s something that resonates,” says Chris. “But the problem with having a pandemic and a panic is that you can’t really consider that. All these disposable masks go to landfill.
“We’re trying to bring a solution. So each staff member would have, say, three or four masks that they would reuse and recycle through a lifetime period. We want to be able to cut the amount of masks used significantly and help out with a circular economy.”
Hybrisan is now emerging as a global player – but their heart remains in Wales. “We’re very proud to be a Welsh business,” says Lee. “We’re trying to build a high technology business that’s local and there’s definitely a global market for it.”