What it does
XTRUDE ZERO is a publicly accessible machine that disinfects and recycles used 3-ply surgical face masks by turning them into a reusable polymer pellet.
We built a print farm making 3D printing face shields for medical staff during the pandemic. We came across a serious problem: Plastic Waste. Even though our operation was only mid-size, running 35 3D printers, we noticed how much plastic waste was being generated during the production process. Then it struck us: what about all the face masks that are used and thrown away, every day, everywhere. Since March 2020, we have been sending an estimated 30 billion face masks to landfills every month. Armed with this knowledge, we started brainstorming ideas on how to give all that plastic a second life and the XTRUDE ZERO project was born.
How it works
The machine takes in face masks and recycles them to reusable plastic pellets. Masks are first inserted into the machine one by one and placed directly onto a conveyor belt. Upon insertion into the machine, a series of rolling drums equipped with blades cut the previously welded sides of the mask off. Then, as the mask moves down the conveyor belt, three revolving drums strip off the masks' layers one by one (each layer is a different plastic). The separated layers are then shredded and collected in a cylindrical container. The shredded fragments are then fed by a worm screw into a heating element. As a result of this process, a continuous strand of filament is formed. It is later cut into even equal segments by a rotary blade creating pellets. The pellet then falls through a beam of UV light for disinfection into a dedicated container where, after collection, the pellet is quarantined as an extra safety precaution against Covid.
It all started in our garage. We set three criteria for our future solution: -sustainability -accesibility -scalability The initial concept was to create a composite material, which could later be used in the production of cars, boats etc. We tried everything we could, from ironing to melting and heat binding, yet nothing seemed to quite work. Eventually we came to the conclusion that a bonding agent, such as a resin, would need to be used to achieve the mechanical properties of the composite we desired. As this would be extremely unsustainable we scrapped the idea. After experimenting further with the face masks, we came up with the idea of creating a desktop-sized machine, which would melt the face masks down into a 3D printing filament. While this idea greatly appealed to us as constructors and passionates of layer deposition technology, we came to the conclusion that it wouldn't meet the scalability criterium. Besides, most people do not have access to a 3D printer at home so it would not be very accessible... We decided to take the idea and modify it to fit our three main criteria. That's when we came up with the idea for XTRUDE ZERO.
How it is different
Although several companies have already identified the polymer materials used in surgical face masks as easily recyclable, no widespread solution which would allow for maximisation of the efficiency of this process has been introduced. XTRUDE ZERO aims to solve this problem. Thanks to the size of the machine it can be placed in virtually any public space making it accessible to the general public. Another key characteristic of our invention is the fact that because it is modular it can easily be scaled up to a large operation, therefore maximising the number of face masks recycled. The idea is based on a technology which is already in widespread operation (vending machines), making it easy to manufacture using existing infrastructure with minor adjustments. Finally, it goes without saying that the pellet produced by the machine can be used to manufacture virtually any plastic part. Including parts of XTRUDE ZERO, such as new pellet containers for example.
We need to identify the costs of production and placement of the machines in the market place. Our next step is to develop a definite future plan for the feasibility of manufacturing XTRUDE ZERO and introducing it into the society in public places such as schools, shopping malls and city halls.