3D-printed copper kills SARS-CoV-2 on contact surfaces

Friday, 24 April, 2020 | Supplied by: SPEE3D


Australian additive manufacturer SPEE3D has developed a fast and effective way to 3D print antimicrobial copper onto metal surfaces. Laboratory tests have shown that a touch surface modified by this process ‘contact kills’ 96% of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in just two hours.

The process, known as ACTIVAT3D copper, was developed by modifying SPEE3D’s 3D printing technology, using new algorithms for controlling the company’s metal printers to allow existing metal parts to be coated with copper. Copper parts are difficult to produce using traditional methods, and thus 3D printing may be the only tool available to rapidly deploy copper; SPEE3D technology makes this possible.

SPEE3D developed the technique to harness copper’s ability to eradicate bacteria, yeasts and viruses rapidly on contact by breaking down the cell wall and destroying the genome. This is compared to traditional surfaces like stainless steel and plastic, with recent studies showing that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on these materials for up to three days. And while stainless steel and plastic surfaces can be disinfected, it is impossible to clean them constantly. When surfaces become contaminated between cleans, touching them may contribute to superspreading events.

360biolabs, a NATA-accredited clinical trial speciality laboratory, tested the effect of ACTIVAT3D copper on live SARS-CoV-2 in its Physical Containment 3 (PC3) laboratory. The results showed that 96% of the virus is killed in two hours and 99.2% of the virus killed in five hours, while stainless steel showed no reduction in the same time frame. Stainless steel is currently the material typically used in hygiene environments.

To further validate its ability to kill SARS-CoV-2, the SPEE3D team developed a process to coat a stainless steel door touch plate and other handles in just five minutes. The digital print files were then sent to participating partners around the globe, allowing the simultaneous installation of newly coated parts in buildings in the USA, Asia and Australia.

A trial at Charles Darwin University’s (CDU) Casuarina campus, for example, involved the coating of a touch plate and door handle. CDU Director of Research and Innovation Dr Steve Rogers said the results were promising and he was excited that this innovative technology could help reduce the survival of the virus on high-traffic surfaces.

“Using the LightSPEE3D 3D printer on our campus, the SPEE3D team have trialled this innovative engineering solution,” Dr Rogers said. “Working with our facilities staff they installed the first door plate on one of our buildings in late March. The results suggest that it is possible to copper coat further items using the LightSPEE3D machine to help reduce the survival of the virus on surfaces.”

Meanwhile, Swinburne University of Technology trialled copper door push plates at its Hawthorn campus. Swinburne Associate Professor Suresh Palanisamy said, “Using the LightSPEE3D printer in our Factory of the Future, we have successfully coated a number of existing stainless steel plates and confirmed the speed and ease of this coating process. Further, trial installations have clearly demonstrated the simplicity and practicality of replacing conventional stainless steel with the new ACTIVAT3D plates.”

SPEE3D CEO Byron Kennedy said his company was focused on developing a solution that can be rapidly deployed and is more efficient than printing solid copper parts from scratch. He said, “The lab results show ACTIVAT3D copper surfaces behave much better than traditional stainless, which may offer a promising solution to a global problem. The technology can be used globally addressing local requirements, be they in hospitals, schools, on ships or shopping centres.”

With laboratory testing complete, it is hoped that the technique can be applied to common touch items like door handles, rails and touch plates in public places.

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