Sterilizable and Reusable UV-Resistant Graphene-Polyurethane Elastomer Composites

Lidia Kuo, Benjamin J. Luijten, Siyang Li, Ana C.M. De Moraes, Anthony J. Silvaroli, Shay G. Wallace, Janan Hui, Julia R. Downing, Kenneth R. Shull, Mark C. Hersam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused medical workers to reuse medical supplies such as N95 masks. While ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is commonly used for sterilization, UVGI can also damage the elastomeric components of N95 masks, preventing effective fit and thus weakening filtration efficacy. Although PPE shortage is no longer an acute issue, the development of sterilizable and reusable UV-resistant elastomers remains of high interest from a long-term sustainability and health perspective. Here, graphene nanosheets, produced by scalable and sustainable exfoliation of graphite in ethanol using the polymer ethyl cellulose (EC), are utilized as UV-resistant additives in polyurethane (PU) elastomer composites. By increasing the graphene/EC loading up to 1 wt %, substantial UV protection is imparted by the graphene nanosheets, which strongly absorb UV light and hence suppress photoinduced degradation of the PU matrix. Additionally, graphene/EC provides mechanical reinforcement, such as increasing Young's modulus, elongation at break, and toughness, with negligible changes following UV exposure. These graphene/EC-PU composites remain mechanically robust over at least 150 sterilization cycles, enabling safe reuse following UVGI. Beyond N95 masks, these UVGI-compatible graphene/EC-PU composites have potential utility in other PPE applications to address the broader issue of single-use waste.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53241-53249
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 30 2022


  • COVID-19
  • carbon nanomaterials
  • personal protective equipment
  • polymer nanocomposites
  • ultraviolet germicidal irradiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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