In late 2019, scientists from Wuhan, China, announced the discovery of a novel coronavirus that was highly communicable, had flu-like symptoms, and seemingly had no cure. The virus quickly spread to the rest of the world, infecting more than 500 million people globally and taking more than 6 million lives.
More than two and a half years after the pandemic started, scientists have found a way to effectively kill the COVID-19 virus with a copper nanoparticle spray. A research team comprised of individuals from Ames National Laboratory, the University of Buffalo and Iowa State University has managed to develop an antimicrobial spray capable of depositing layers of copper nanowires on high-touch public surfaces. The spray contains copper-zinc nanowires (CuZnNWs) or copper nanowires (CuNWs), which act as an antimicrobial coating on different surfaces and kill any COVID-19 viruses present.
The researchers explained in a study published in the “RSC Advances” journal that humans have historically used copper to prevent and treat diseases and infections thanks to its antimicrobial properties. Research has also repeatedly shown that copper has the ability to inactivate fungi, bacteria, yeasts and viruses that it comes into contact with.
Lead researcher and Ames Lab scientist Jun Chi said that a single copper ion is capable of penetrating the outer membrane of the virus and inserting itself into the virus’s RNA chain. This prevents the virus from duplicating itself and essentially disables them.
Chi and his colleagues came up with the idea of developing the copper antimicrobial spray while they were working on a project to develop copper ink to print copper nanowires that are used in flexible electronic devices. The researchers figured that they could dilute the copper ink with water or ethanol and spray it on a surface to coat it with a light copper nanowire later.
For the spray to be effective, the surface first has to be cleaned and disinfected. Then the spray is applied in a thin layer — so thin that it is transparent — to coat the surface in antimicrobial copper nanowires. The researchers said that their spray can be effective on glass, stainless steel, and plastic surfaces.
Of the two types of copper ink, the team found that CuNW would inactivate the virus faster than CuZnNW in the first 10 minutes of application. But CuZnNW had a much more stable and sustained release of copper ions that allowed the copper spray to inactivate the virus for longer. As such, the researchers concluded that CuZnNW sprays were the most effective at inactivating and killing off the coronavirus.
As more applications for copper are discovered and documented, entities such as Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX), which produce this metal are sure to count on this growing demand for the metal to grow shareholder value in the long term.
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