Stokie grandad, 82, comes up with brainwave for sterilising PPE so it can be reused


An 82-year-old inventor has designed a way to sterilise personal protective equipment so it can be safely reused by hospital staff.

Retired engineer Derek Wardle came up with the brainwave while doing a PhD through Staffordshire University.

Now the grandfather, from Trentham, hopes to work with an independent lab on further testing.

Derek said: “As soon as coronavirus began, and I heard they were using gowns, aprons and visors just the once then throwing them away, I thought why don’t I, as a volunteer, try and do something about it.

“Through my work on air conditioning units, I knew the effectiveness of ultraviolet light and ozone in killing bacteria and explored this as a way to destroy coronavirus on PPE in an enclosed space.”

He went on to design a new type of electrostatic precipitator (ESP) – a filtration device which captures harmful particulates from the air before releasing the cleaner air back into the atmosphere.

Items of PPE

Derek’s initial thought was to treat Covid-19 as though it was just another form of pollution which could be contained then destroyed.

But with limited access to facilities during lockdown, he conducted his experiments at home using household items, including a wheelie bin and tumble dryer.

By using a particular wave of UV light, Derek was able to generate the gas ozone, which could be used to kill traces of the virus before quickly dissipating.

It showed it was possible to sterilise rigid PPE, such as visors. And he tried out the same method on other equipment, including gowns, aprons and masks.

“It is difficult for ozone to reach between fibres of stacked cloth but, using a domestic tumble dryer, I was successful in exposing the fibres of the clothing to ozone during tumbling,” he added.

“Tests done in the laboratory later proved that ozone concentrations were sufficient to kill bacteria and destroy viruses.”

Derek, who already has an honours degree in business and a master’s degree in engineering from the university, has now completed his PhD.

“It opened up a whole new world. If you have the chance, at any age, and you’ve got ambition to get a degree, then come to Staffordshire University.”

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As for his latest invention, he hopes the techniques will become widely used with PPE.

But he said: “As an engineer, it would be irresponsible of me to assume complete success at this stage. Further tests need to be done by an independent laboratory to ensure the efficacy of the process.

“In the meantime, nothing more can be done without approved efficacy so hospitals and care homes continue to discard PPE after single use.”





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