Environmental Composites, Inc., based in Utica, is a custom manufacturer of advanced textile materials for a variety of markets. The company adds value and efficiency to textile products by offering creative solutions and unique and innovative designs.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Environmental Composites saw that the textile filter materials used in N95 respirators were in critically short supply. It identified the manufacturing bottleneck for these textiles as occurring in the ‘meltblown’ process, which could not meet the volume demand spike with the existing infrastructure. The company needed funding to develop a new method of producing N95 filter material using existing high-capacity, alternative textile equipment available on site. The uncertain circumstances and immediate economic challenges of the pandemic made it very risky for businesses like ECI to pursue these types of projects without support.
Environmental Composites applied for the FuzeHub COVID-19 Manufacturing Grant and received $50,000. It used this funding to support the costs of developing its new approach to manufacturing N95 textile filter material, including testing, the purchase of raw materials, the purchase of specialty equipment, and the hiring of a market consultant. By July 2020, the company had completed a design that met the NIOSH N95 test standards, with capacity to support the production of millions of N95 respirators per month.
The awardee also used $2,500 of additional funding from CCMR to test and integrate new materials in their devices. The Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR) is funded by the National Science Foundation. Its primary mission is to perform cutting-edge materials research. The center also provides support to industry through its Industrial Partnerships Program, funded by the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research (NYSTAR). This program promotes technology transfer and economic development by offering to industry low-cost, timely and flexible access to world-leading materials experts (Cornell faculty members) and to state-of-the-art instruments, enabling product development as well as expansion to wider markets.
The FuzeHub grant was imperative to the success of Environmental Composites’ N95 filter material project, enabling it to pursue the project on an expedited timeline and achieve its goal of developing an alternative supply of N95 textile filter material during the pandemic. Jim Gleason, technical director for Environmental Composites, said the new product will play an important role at the company, securing near-term sales while also creating a new high-growth market. This growth will result in more local jobs and increased sales and tax revenue for the state.