University of Manchester polymer helps 3M win prestigious innovation award

A polymer invented by University of Manchester academics is a key component material of the 3M™ Service Life Indicator featured on the new 3M™ Organic Gas and Vapour Service Life Indicator Filters 6000i Series. 

The filters, which recently won the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) Product Innovation Award, contain the University developed innovation – a polymer of intrinsic microporosity (PIM). The 3M™ Service Life Indicator is a new sensor for organic vapours that, when used in appropriate environments, indicates when it is time for a user to change their filter.

Workers in many industries are required to use respirators to protect against organic vapours, and, until now, there has not been a real-time way to determine when an organic vapour filter needs to be changed – with workers instead relying on estimated exposure and usage levels to estimate service life, or using odour, taste or irritation to determine when it’s time to change.

PIMs were developed at the University in research led by Professors Peter Budd and Neil McKeown, with the innovation being licensed to 3M by the University’s agent for intellectual property commercialisation, UMIP.

PIMs are big molecules with highly rigid and contorted molecular structures. These create tiny apertures of a nanometre or less in size, which small molecules can penetrate. Organic vapours are readily absorbed by the PIM and the sensor is designed to indicate when the PIM has absorbed vapours above a specified minimum level.

3M has also launched their new series of organic vapour filters to the US market. ”Using a respirator filter too long can lead to break-through of the hazard into the respirator,” said Alana Mitchell, Global Marketing Manager, Reusable Respirators, 3M. “In appropriate environments, the 3M™ Service Life Indicator can help protect workers from dangerous airborne organic vapours by helping remove the guesswork related to cartridge replacement, giving users the assurance that their respirator is delivering the protection they need.”

Peter Budd commented: “It’s great to see an idea, sparked over a decade ago, develop into a real product that offers a genuine benefit to people in the workplace.”

Current research is exploring other applications for PIMs, including their use in membranes for separating gas mixtures and liquid mixtures. PIMs have potential for the removal of carbon dioxide from power station flue gases, and for the purification of bioalcohols.

Click here to learn more about the 3M™ Organic Gas and Vapour Service Life Indicator Filters 6000i Series. For further information about PIMs research, please visit:

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