2020 Health Security & Pandemics


Jute cellulose-based biodegradable PPE

Jute-polymer based, recyclable, biodegradable, oligo-chitosan coated personal protective equipment for healthcare workers

Team Lead

Mehjabin Tishan Mahfuz

Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Jute cellulose-based biodegradable PPE

One-line solution summary:

Jute-polymer based, recyclable, biodegradable, oligo-chitosan coated personal protective equipment for healthcare workers

Pitch your solution.

A recent report states that more than 22,000 healthcare workers globally are infected with Covid-19 with multiple deaths and rising continuously. The primary reason for the infection and death are lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gowns, masks, caps and goggles.  Disposable and single-use PPE are an important barrier to human-to-human disease transfer. The lack of proper disposal of medical products is a constant and grave challenge in Low-to-Middle-Income Country (LMIC). The current waste management in Bangladesh and other LMICs are often unregulated and includes incineration that contribute to air pollution or simply injudicious dumping. We are proposing development single-use PPE from biodegradable and recyclable jute cellulose and coated with oligo-chitosan for added anti-viral protection to meet the rising demand of PPE  that is locally produced, affordable, recyclable, biodegradable, environmentally friendly.

What specific problem are you solving?

According to WHO, the current stockpile of PPE is insufficient to meet the requirement and are feared to cause even more shortage. The current conventional PPE is often single-use and discarded, contributing to unaccounted environmental pollution globally, leading to more manufacturing of PPE that is often non-biodegradable. The terminal medical waste management is often incineration in well-regulated countries and injudicious disposal into the environment with ill-regulated waste management system. For obvious protection against cross contamination, most PPEs used during pandemics of infectious diseases are not reused or recycled. Virus and other microorganisms are rapidly evolving entities that are often highly infectious and transmissible. Combating these virulent pathogens require prophylactic or therapeutic agents with broad range of antimicrobial, such as antiviral, activity that provides an added defense against highly infectious microbes, such as the novel covid-19 for an added defense against human-to-human transmission.

What is your solution?

We propose to manufacture medical PPE (gown, cap, mask, and gloves) with Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan’s biodegradable and recyclable plastic alternative from jute cellulose and coat the PPE with chitosan, a natural polysaccharide derived from prawn shell . Owing to chitosan’s biodegradability, nontoxicity and antimicrobial activity, primarily studied in plants, it has wide biomedical potential. Though the exact mechanism of antiviral action is unknown, possible mechanism include that a positive charge on the amine group of the glucosamine monomer at pH<6.3 lead to the leakage of intra-cellular constituents or the formation of a polymer membrane of chitosan on the surface of the cell that leads to inhibition of mRNA and protein synthesis. Low molecular chitosan (oligo-chitosan) demonstrations more antimicrobial activities.  It was studied, chitosan (CS) nanoparticles were prepared by ionic cross-linking of the CS with sodium tripolyphosphate (TPP) at the CS/TPP ratio of 1:0.6 using 2h mixing time. Chitosan was used as against influenza as well as other biomedical infection applications.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

The PPE is targeted primarily towards the healthcare providers who come in contact with infectious patients. This single-use PPE will protect both the caregivers and prevent transmission of infection from one patient to another. Bangladesh is a low-income nation that have struggled to provide adequate budgets towards healthcare. The lack of proper protection to first-responders and other caregivers puts them at a greater risk as well increases the likelihood of infecting the caregivers and other healthy persons in their contact. The recent covid-19 pandemic has put many doctors and medical professionals under quarantine after potential exposure to infected patients. It is established that jute-polymer is non-porous, we will develop the PPE and pilot them with 50 medical professionals in a hospital setting to test for its acceptability and comfort among users. We will modify the designs based on their feedback to develop a comfortable, functional, and acceptable PPE from jute polymer.  Given the proper funding and opportunity, the jute cellulose sheets can be coated with chitosan and sealed with heat or other bio-sealants in the shape of PPE.

Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Challenge.

One of the components of the challenge is to protect healthcare workers. Health workers often face shortage of PPE in the face of an outbreak leaving them vulnerable to infections. This challenge is graver in LMICs due to lack of resources and timely and appropriate governance. The current pandemic in Bangladesh has demanded the need for safe, recyclable, and environmentally friendly PPE from natural and available sources that can protect healthcare providers and front-line workers with low-cost and effective materials.  Our innovation is an affordable natural product that is effective and safe in protecting humans as well as the environment.

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Prototype: A venture or organization building and testing its product, service, or business model

Who is the primary delegate for your solution?

Dr. Mehjabin Tishan Mahfuz, icddr,b

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Dhaka, Bangladesh
More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Describe what makes your solution innovative.

The current PPE in use is made of plastic of plastic derivatives that are either single use or reusable after proper disinfection or sterilization. The current standard for medical gowns for high risk settings must be able protect against liquid barriers and withstand long fluid intense procedures to combat against non-airborne diseases. The gowns are accompanied by a head covering that is either attached or detached. Similar standards apply for medical gloves and they are always disposable after single use. We are proposing that the medical protective equipment such as gowns, head covers and gloves are made from jute-based cellulose. As mentioned before, the jute based cellulose liquid proof, air proof and its molecular composition of cellulose can be altered to withstand fluid for various lengths of time. Jute cellulose eventually dissolve in water. The cellulose can be taken back to the lab and recycled into the cellulose sheet for making medical gowns. The cellulose offer a standard protection against droplet-borne and air-borne pathogens. Furthermore, we are proposing that when making into medical protective equipment, they will be covered with chitosan. Though chitosan have been proven to have antibacterial properties, recent studies have shown antiviral properties and have been used to combat viral diseases against plants and humans. Chitosan is a natural derivative that is proven to be safe for humans and for the environment.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The main ingredient in the jute poly technology are jute cellulose, a biodegradable synthetic polymer as binder & Cross-linker for chemical reaction. Jute is a native leafy plant that grows in abundance in Bangladesh and South Asia and holds about 72% - 75% cellulose, of which, 50% - 55% could be extracted(8). We hypothesize that the interaction of chitosan, a natural biopolymer with phospholipid part of Coronavirus for various biomedical applications will be widely investigated as a simple model for cell membranes. However, to ensure polymer solubility, up to now only acidic sub-phases with pH significantly below biological fluids will be used. To increase the biological significance of these investigations, would be evaluated the effects of chitosan derivatives (low molecular weight chitosan i.e. oligo-chitosan, and positively charged) on phospholipid films (either zwitterionic or anionic) using phosphate buffered saline solutions (PBS) as a sub-phase as well as others. One study by Kalaythia suggest that chitosan and its derivatives might bind to a pocket formed by the spike protein trimer in Covid-19 and block its interaction with host receptor(9). Chitosan is nontoxic in nature, biocompatible, biodegradable and is capable to open up tight junctions between epithelial cells, for which it is being considered as one of polymer-based nanoparticle for intranasal administration of therapeutic agents(10). The jute cellulose sheet can dissolved in water and recycled to form more sheets. Therefore, we proposed to develop manufacturing system along with recycling system to reduce environmental pollution and cost of producing new materials.

Provide evidence that this technology works.

This technology to covert jute into jute cellulose was trademarked in 2017. Several publications were made in peer-reviewed journals. The links to the paper are provided below:

  • Uddin MK, Khan MA, Ali KMI. Degradable jute plastic composites. Polymer Degradation and Stability. 1997;55(1):1-7
  • Pavel, Shaharia & Supinit, Vijit. (2017). Bangladesh Invented Bioplastic Jute Poly Bag and International Market Potentials. Open Journal of Business and Management. 05. 624-640. 10.4236/ojbm.2017.54053.

The technology of converting jute cellulose to liquid-barrier sheets is established and several products are being designed using the jute poly, such as the jute-based biodegradable sanitary pads by icddr,b in collaboration with the inventor, Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan. Recent research on covid-19 and chitosan are referenced below:


  • Kalathiya U, Padariya M, Mayordomo M, Lisowska M, Nicholson J, Singh A, et al. Highly Conserved Homotrimer Cavity Formed by the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Glycoprotein: A Novel Binding Site. Journal of clinical medicine. 2020;9(5).No HK, Meyers SP, Prinyawiwatkul W, Xu Z. Applications of chitosan for improvement of quality and shelf life of foods: a review. Journal of food science. 2007;72(5):R87-100.
  • Itani R, Tobaiqy M, Al Faraj A. Optimizing use of theranostic nanoparticles as a life-saving strategy for treating COVID-19 patients. Seyfoddin A, Sherwin T, Patel DV, McGhee CN, Rupenthal ID, Taylor JA, et al. Ex vivo and In vivo Evaluation of Chitosan Coated Nanostructured Lipid Carriers for Ocular Delivery of Acyclovir. Current drug delivery. 2016;13(6):923-34.

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Biotechnology / Bioengineering
  • Materials Science

What is your theory of change?

We believe that our product provides an alternative to the plastic-based PPE used in many traditional medical settings. Our product is a relatively new technology that requires an investment for mass production. Though we will not be so ambitious to claim that this jute-cellulose will replace the plastic demands, we believe that providing a safer and environmentally sustainable alternative will reduce the plastic waster burden. As jute is widely available in South Asia and Bangladesh, and therefore jute cellulose can be cheaply obtained, our solution has the potential to be an affordable product for global use and other LMICs. We further believe that the current covid-19 crisis has proven the need for solutions to protect our healthcare providers and other frontline workers who are being occupationally exposed to pathogens. Unfortunately, we know that covid-19 is not the last pandemic and therefore, there is an increased demand for sustainable PPE solutions. The sustainability, affordability, and recyclability of the product makes it a lucrative international investment.

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-Being
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Bangladesh

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Bangladesh

How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

We will begin the production in smaller scale and pilot if for further design and comfort improvement. Therefore, we will develop 500 PPE and provide it to purposively selective cohort of 50 healthcare professionals in a hospital setting. We will collect their feedback regarding the comfort of the product, the durability in the field setting, its sustainability in local climate, user comfort and ease of use. Depending on the feedback, we will manufacture 500 more PPE with modified design for piloting. We will attempt to provide the modified PPE to the same group of people to gain their feedback on its comfort. Though we are certain regarding the product’s ability to protect the user against pathogens, we have yet to determine its field and practical application such as users’ comfort the hot and human climate, its durability during routine hospital, ambulance and street level applications.

What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Within the next one year, we plan to have completed the pilot phase of the product and have developed a practical and sustainable product appropriate for field use. At the end of the first year, we plan to scale-up the manufacturing of the technology with private, national and international investors. This new partnership will help us produce the PPE in large number as well as help us to internationally market and distribute the product, especially to low and middle income countries. We also hope to set up recycling facilities to major market areas where jute is not an endemic crop so that the cellulose can be safe recycled to make more PPEs from the existing used PPEs. This facility will be able to produce a job and small scale business opportunity in the local communities and be an environmentally friendly solution to the increasing demands of PPE. In the next five years, we hope to have a sustainable market and distribution and set up recycling centers in several strategic locations globally.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

Jute cellulose and bioplastics are relatively new technology which requires a significant amount of financial investment for mass production and industrialization. This factor makes it difficult to compete with the current ready and cheap plastic market. The government’s financial contribution is a proof of support to scale up this innovation but minimal to producing in the amount that can make a sustainable impact in the market. Private investors are reluctant to make the investment due to its risk and lack of existing market in local and global community. Jute is a national commodity in Bangladesh and therefore requires the government’s permission before its use and distribution.  Though the government has pledged full support in privatization and industrial production of jute-based products, we will need obtain permission from the government and have the government as stakeholders to the innovation and further scale up.

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

We plan to collaborate with national and international funders to develop this prototype and appeal to the government's current environmental position. We further plan to develop this model as an affordable competitor to attract business models and investments. We believe that with government support, there will be an increased number of business interest in the product to produce them in mass scale as there is a current global demand for environmentally friendly PPE.

About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

Including the principal investigator, there will be a total of five team members working full time, and three team members working part time in different capacities. We will enlist the help of two consultants. Dr. Mobarak Ahmad Khan is the inventor of jute-cellulose and Dr. Leanne Unicombe will aide us in the methodology and scientific writing. We will enlist a sub contractor who will develop and manufacture the product.

The principal investigator is Dr. Mehjabin Tishan Mahfuz is a medical graduate and earned her MPH majoring in Epidemiology. She is currently working as a Research Investigator at icddr,b.

How many years have you worked on your solution?

11 years

Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

icddr,b is an international health research organization located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Established more than fifty years ago, this organization is committed to solving public health problems facing low- and middle-income countries through innovative scientific research – including laboratory-based,

clinical, epidemiological and health systems research. One of the units of icddr,b is the Environmental Interventions Unit, committed to combat negative environmental impacts of pollution and improve public health with low-cost, evidence-based and contextually sound research and innovation.

We have collaborated with Dr. Mubarak Ahmad Khan and Bangladesh Jute Mill Corporation (BJMC) to develop jute-cellulose based sanitary pads. We believe that our history of collaboration, our experience and expertise in public health research and innovations, our team is a well equipped and prepared to develop this technology as a prototype.

What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

icddr,b research is supported by a combination of core support from bilateral
donors and grant income. In 2017, the top 10 revenue sources for
restricted and unrestricted grants were:

1) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USA 2) UKAID: Department for International Development (DFID) 3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA 4) United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 5) The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria 6) National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA 7) Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh 8) Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) 9) Commission of the European Communities 10) Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Government of Canada

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

There is no established business model as the study explores to develop a prototype. However, we predict the following business model components. Key resources: currently we need a source of jute, a laboratory to extract jute cellulose from fibers, manufacture chitosan from shells of shrimps, and a team of laboratory technicians. We have the necessary materials, laboratory support, and technicians to develop the prototypes for testing, but we will need a larger scale manufacturing facility once there is adequate demand.

Partners and key stakeholders: Our largest partner will have to be Bangladesh government. Jute is a national product and the government has a major stake in the development of jute-based products and its marketing. We will need to have major garments and pharmaceutical companies as stakeholders for manufacturing.

Key activities are to extract cellulose from fibers, manufacture the PPE from the cellulose sheets, and manufacture chitosan on a large scale.

Channels: we will reach our users through the government and hospitals. The end users of this product will be healthcare professionals who are dealing with covid-19 patients in person. They will have to reach them through institutions. The beneficiaries of the product revenue will currently be the government and the stakeholders contributing to the development of the prototype. Until there are major private sector contribution, the government revenues will support further production of the product. We expect to measure the outcome of the study through increased demands, user feedback, and reduction in waste in medical protective grounds.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?

Organizations (B2B)

What is your path to financial sustainability?

We expect to fund this product development in mass scale through a combination of funding sources. We expect to get some financial support from the government to expand the jute-based product in both national and international market. We believe that a successful prototype will have potential market in healthcare industry for mass scale-up and production in both developed and developing nations. We plan to further hand over the technology and design to third party business if there is adequate demand, for mass production, marketing and distribution. Icddr,b is a non-profit organization with little business interest and experience. However, we plan to partner with a business institution once the prototype is successful.

Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

MIT solve represents excellence in standards for solutions that have a practical impact on human life. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic has a global health, social, and economic impact. The most affected in this crisis are frontline workers who come to direct contact with the pathogens. To date, the world has lost many doctors, law enforcement professionals, and other professionals simply for the lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). There is an exponential increase in demand of PPEs among individuals and general public. As the PPEs are being mass produced, we are overlooking the negative consequences of injudicious disposal of masks, gloves and other plastic based materials on the environment and marine life. There is a dire need for an alternative, effective, affordable, and environmentally friendly solution. We believe that natural jute cellulose based PPE covered with chitosan for added antiviral protection is an effective alternative in high demand in the current covid-19 crisis globally. MIT solve can provide this technology with funding, marketing partners and other networking platform for product development, marketing, and improvements.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business model
  • Funding and revenue model
  • Legal or regulatory matters
  • Marketing, media, and exposure

Solution Team

to Top