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April 10, 2020

UMaine teams with health care providers, brewers to solve pandemic shortages

Courtesy / University of Maine The University of Maine has formed an innovation team to work with Maine hospitals and manufacturers on supply shortages.

The University of Maine has formed an "innovation team" to help evaluate and develop solutions to the shortages of supplies and challenges faced by Maine’s health care centers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The group includes UMaine faculty, staff and students, representatives from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, MaineHealth, St. Joseph Hospital and Northern Light Health, according to the university’s blog.

Other partners include the Manufacturers Association of Maine and Maine Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

The team is operating under a March 22 umbrella agreement with the Maine Emergency Management Agency, allowing the University of Maine System to provide goods and services to Maine health care facilities and agencies as coordinated by MEMA.

The first UMaine-led initiative to help meet the shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers focuses on production of hospital-grade hand sanitizer. Other initiatives include research on protocols for N95 masks, and development of devices supporting intubation and ventilation. 

A team led by UMaine’s Process Development Center and faculty in chemical and biomedical engineering established limited production of hospital-grade alcohol-based sanitizer in accordance with federal guidelines. 

Beginning March 23, the university’s existing supplies were used to pilot the production of the sanitizer, which was distributed to Central Maine Medical Center and Northern Light. 

Last week, the team began more robust production and distribution, including supplies for Covenant Health, MaineHealth, Cary Medical Center, Houlton Regional Hospital, Down East Community Hospital, Maliseet Health and Wellness Center and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Hospital. 

The Process Development Center is working with Maine Distillers Guild’s Ned Wight, who is coordinating the ethanol supply from area distillers. They include New England Distilling, Hardshore Distilling, Stroudwater Distillery, Sebago Lake Distillery, Split Rock Distilling, Blue Barren Distillery, Mossy Ledge Spirits, Chadwick’s Craft Spirits, Wiggly Bridge Distillery, Round Turn Distilling and Three of Strong Spirits. 

Local brewers provide the feedstock for the distilleries. The brewers include Allagash, Maine Beer, Rising Tide, Foundation, Oxbow, Shipyard, Baxter, Threshers and Tumbledown. 

UMaine’s production initially focused on 55-gallon and 5-gallon containers. It has since increased coordination with other distillers for smaller package production. These include Maine Craft Distillers in Portland and Boston Brands in Lewiston.

Production is expected to be 400 gallons per day. A 55-gallon batch can be made in 30 minutes. 

The hospital-grade hand sanitizer is intended only for hospitals. As production increases, the hope is to supply other health-related facilities and first responders. 

Nestlé is donating 0.5-liter bottles to help distribute the hand sanitizer in smaller portions.

The hand sanitizer is being produced in a 500-square-foot wet lab space on the UMaine campus. A three-person production team is required, enabling staff to observe social distancing requirements while at work. Support and management staff coordinate from remote locations.

The center is UMaine’s commercial-scale pilot plant, established four decades ago to primarily support the pulp, paper and bioproducts sector with research, development, demonstration and commercialization services. 

UMaine and its partners are looking at other PPE devices, including N95 masks, clear plastic face shields, clear plastic aerosol boxes that cover the patient’s head and shoulders and 3D-printed ventilator components. 

The UMaine innovation team was formed directly to work with Maine hospitals and Maine manufacturers, but also welcomes ideas from others. The group is making new connections daily and hopes others will coordinate through the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and MEMA. Questions can be sent to

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