In a paper published in the journal Materials Letters, a research team explained that by adding mask materials to a cement mixture it was 47% stronger than commonly used cement after a month of curing.
"These waste masks actually could be a valuable commodity if you process them properly," said Xianming Shi, professor and interim chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the corresponding author on the paper. "I’m always looking out for waste streams, and my first reaction is ‘how do I turn that into something usable in concrete or asphalt?’"
The process involves making tiny mask fibers, then mixing the microfibers into a solution of graphene oxide before adding them to a cement concrete mixture. This helps prevent the cement concrete from cracking.
"This work showcases one technology to divert the used masks from the waste stream to a high-value application," Shi said.