Evaluation of supercritical CO2 sterilization efficacy for sanitizing personal protective equipment from the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Devasier Bennet, Ashlee F. Harris, Jerome Lacombe, Carla Brooks, Nina Bionda, Aaron D. Strickland, Tony Eisenhut, Frederic Zenhausern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The purpose of this research is to evaluate the supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) sterilization-based NovaClean process for decontamination and reprocessing of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, cloth masks, and N95 respirators. Preliminarily, Bacillus atrophaeus were inoculated into different environments (dry, hydrated, and saliva) to imitate coughing and sneezing and serve as a “worst-case” regarding challenged PPE. The inactivation of the microbes by scCO2 sterilization with NovaKill or H2O2 sterilant was investigated as a function of exposure times ranging from 5 to 90 min with a goal of elucidating possible mechanisms. Also, human coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and HCoV-NL63 were inoculated on the respirator material, and viral activity was determined post-treatment. Moreover, we investigated the reprocessing ability of scCO2-based decontamination using wettability testing and surface mapping. Different inactivation mechanisms have been identified in scCO2 sanitization, such as membrane damage, germination defect, and dipicolinic acid leaks. Moreover, the viral sanitization results showed a complete inactivation of both coronavirus HCoV-NL63 and SARS-CoV-2. We did not observe changes in PPE morphology, topographical structure, or material integrity, and in accordance with the WHO recommendation, maintained wettability post-processing. These experiments establish a foundational understanding of critical elements for the decontamination and reuse of PPE in any setting and provide a direction for future research in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146519
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021


  • Bacillus atrophaeus endospore
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Face mask
  • HCoV-NL63
  • Supercritical carbon dioxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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