August 7th, 2020

Innovations That Matter – Episode 08

As designers, we’re intensely curious about innovations of all kinds, and even more so when human ingenuity is borne out of sudden change. We decided to lend our expertise in highlighting and evaluating promising innovations borne out of the COVID-19 crisis. In this series, we’ll be using 3 different categories to rate these exciting ideas. First will be innovation, or how new or disruptive the idea is. Next, we’ll look at feasibility to check how realistic the idea actually is in practice. Finally, will be scalability, to see how capable an idea is to reach a wide audience.

In this episode of Innovations That Matter, we review:
1. New Air Filter Substrate Kills COVID Virus [Link]
2. Turning Takeout Waste Into PPE [Link]
3. Fashion Brand Makes Adjustable Mask [Link]

Watch Episode 07 here.

Find more COVID-19 insights here.


Hello again, this is David Bulfin, Senior Designer at BOLTGROUP returning for another episode of Innovations That Matter, where we explore, analyze, and rank exciting ideas from around the world that are appearing in response to COVID-19. Let’s get started.

From a prevention and protection standpoint, air filtration is an important way to hold the line against COVID. The best filters available today, act by physically blocking the particles and droplets that carry the virus. While stopping the aerosols that spread the virus is a great start, killing it outright would of course be the coup de grace. Researchers from the University of Houston seem to have done just that. Their new catch and kill filter design goes beyond filtering to actually destroy the COVID-19 virus as it passes through. The filter device is comprised of commercially available nickel foam and is then electrically heated to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat kills the virus instantly and nickel foam acts as a clever combination, pairing electrical conductivity with high flow filtration. Researchers at the Galveston National Laboratory have observed that in air that contains virus particles, 99.8% of COVID-19 is killed in the first pass. On innovation, this proof of principle gets great marks at 5 out of 5. Combining existing technologies into something new and exciting is a hallmark of great design thinking. For feasibility, the catch and kill filter also scores well at 5 out of 5. We think that manufacturability will not be an issue here. Because the filter relies on commercially available tech, the lead times on transitioning this R and D concept to production should not be overly challenging. That being said, our team is giving a 3 out of 5 rating on scalability. While it’s easy to see this device being flexible in both size and configuration, we’ll be curious to see how easily this new filter integrates into existing air systems now that electricity and heat are new factors.

The current pandemic climate has changed our day to day in so many ways. With restaurants either unavailable or at reduced capacity, people are cooking at home and ordering takeout more than ever before. More takeout, means more takeout packaging. More takeout packaging of course also means more plastic waste ending up in landfills everywhere. Envision Charlotte is championing a new way to make plastic food containers a part of the circular economy. Using specialized machinery, the Circular CLT project converts donated takeout packaging into fresh filament spools to feed 3D printers. For those who are using their 3D printers to create face shields and other COVID fighting PPE, Envision Charlotte is giving away their printer filament for free. For innovation, this initiative gets a 5 out of 5 score from our team at Bolt group. By seeing an increase in waste as an opportunity to create, we see a great vision being realized. Even beyond the pandemic, this could be a piece of an even greater story to help reduce and eliminate takeout packaging as a massive source of waste. On feasibility, this project receives a 4 out of 5 score. While the technology is being proven successfully, it’s only as strong as its participant involvement. We think that increased awareness of this project will be crucial to its long term success and its ultimate mission. If you’re in Charlotte like we are, definitely check out Envision Charlotte as part of your family’s consumption story. Finally on scalability, we’re also giving a 4 out of 5 score. We would love to see this program expand and grow. Knowing this, some additional insight into the overall energy efficiency of the process and throughput in general will help to make this program one that could become a vital in the future. We also know that the easier it is for consumers to get their waste to the right place, the greater the chance of success.

As mask wearing continues to embed itself into the fabric of daily life, more and more fashion companies are engaging to make sure that while we’re keeping our faces covered, we can do so in a way that’s thoughtful and stylish. Petit Pli originally made a name for themselves in avant garde children’s clothes that grow with a child through a combination of elastics and textured pleats. With the onset of COVID-19, they realized that the techniques they pioneered to make expanding clothing a reality could also translate to making a well fitting, comfortable and stylish face covering. On innovation, the Petit Pli beta mask gets a 4 out of 5 score from our team. Translating the unique strengths of their clothing technology to masks was a logical choice that pays off well. This is an interesting instance where great innovation with previous products has paved the way for new applications later. On feasibility the design receives a 3 out of 5. While their design includes filter pocket to help with filtration, the stretchy nature of their primary material while excellent for comfort, may affect its level in protection in comparison to other cloth masks. Scalability will also receive a 3 out 5 score. Demand for these sleek new masks has been high. The first two batches have already sold out and the third batch is currently wait list only. This London based team has a wonderful problem on their hands with the need to potentially expand to meet demand. That being said, repurposing their existing production methods toward creating these masks is both commendable and sustainable, with their materials being sourced from recycled plastic bottles.

That’s it for this episode. We’ll be back again to share even more cool innovations you need to know about. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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