This Oven Doesn't Cook Turkey: It Kills COVID

  • Charles County,St Mary's County
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CALIFORNIA, Md. - A heat sanitization box designed and developed by entrepreneurs at TechPort, UAS Business Incubator and Community Innovation Hub of Southern Maryland, to assist frontline health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic by making personal protective equipment (PPE) reusable was instrumental in yesterday’s announcement on Dry Heat by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Officially titled the Semi-Automated Heat Bioburden Reduction Module, the 16-feet long, 8-feet wide, and 8-feet high “Hot Box” unit has undergone FDA testing while in use at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center during the past eight months.

“We are thrilled to reach this stage where all our hard work can now become accessible to health care providers throughout our nation,” said Tommy Luginbill, director of TechPort. “What an incredible experience it has been to pull our Southern Maryland community together to produce an essential tool in this battle against the novel coronavirus.”

As much of the nation began shutting down business to combat the novel coronavirus last March, Luginbill and Matt Hayes, founder and owner of Unmanned Propulsion Development, recognized that as TechPort entrepreneurs they were in an ideal position to help. Initially, they created masks, shields and gowns, but quickly realized materials would run out.

“The idea of constantly using PPE once and throwing it away was not sustainable,” said Hayes, who paused his work on a hybrid gas and electric generator powered propulsion system, to lead development of the heat sanitization box and establish a nonprofit, Southern Maryland Loves You, to support the project. “We can keep producing things people can use once, or we could come up with a way to reuse those things.”

Hayes studied the characteristics of the virus, how to filter it and chemicals that would destroy it, part of a document he created on COVID-19 for engineers. It became clear that simple, universal heat was the way to go.

Eight companies were approached to help and two were a perfect fit: Burch Oil and Triton Defense, where the box was built. Capable of disinfecting 24,000 N95 masks per day, or other PPE equipment, the “hot box” can provide healthcare personnel the ability to reuse their gear at least 20 times, saving money and materials. It takes about one hour to cycle, not including the time to load and unload the PPE, Hayes says.

“We couldn’t be prouder of this manufacturing triumph in Southern Maryland,” said Chris Kaselemis, economic development director for St. Mary's County. “The way TechPort entrepreneurs collaborated with Burch Oil and Triton Defense in a moment of great need is a model for how business relationships can be effective and flourish in the future.”

Local Maryland artists and musicians were instrumental in spreading awareness of the 'Hot Box' technology through multiple media platforms.

“Being able to sanitize and safely reuse our PPE has been a godsend during this intense time period when there is a strain on all health care facilities,” said Dominic Fragman. “We know firsthand what an important and practical innovation this is for the ongoing pandemic.”

In issuing the new policy on heat, the FDA notes that this guidance provides a policy for bioburden1 reduction systems that use dry heat to help support the single-user reuse2 of certain particulate filtering facepiece respirators3 (FFRs). This policy applies to FFRs that do not have exhalation valves.

About TechPort

TechPort, UAS Business Incubator and Community Innovation Hub of Southern Maryland, is a business incubator, think tank and the center of the Southern Maryland innovation zone. Located at St. Mary’s County Airport, TechPort began operations in April 2018 and is supported by the U.S. Navy, St. Mary’s County and the University of Maryland. Its mission is to grow the area’s economic base by accelerating innovation and assisting entrepreneurs to create and build new tech based companies. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and other autonomous systems are the primary focus of the incubator.

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