Blending spirits in society's service. Chemists at Stockholm University have produced hand sanitiser for local hospitals during the Covid-19 crisis. The film features Berit Olofsson, Professor of Organic Chemistry and Ken Inge, Researcher, Material and Environmental Chemistry.

The Swedish health care system is currently experiencing a shortage of disposable articles and alerts have been issued regarding this problem which has arisen as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. The need for protective equipment, such as face masks and disposable gloves, as well as hand sanitisers is considerable. Lennart Bergström, professor at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry, wanted Stockholm University to act on this.

“When the lack of material in the medical field became apparent, I asked myself how the University, and especially we as chemists, could contribute”, said Lennart Bergström.

Request for materials to be donated


Photo: Konstantin Kriechbaum
Ehsan Hadi, Tamara Church and Konstantin Kriechbaum in the lab. Photo: Konstantin Kriechbaum

Professor Bergström contacted Berit Olofsson, a professor of organic chemistry and section dean, and asked what could be done. She then contacted the Danderyd Hospital in Stockholm to find out what urgent needs they had. The hospital reported shortages of hand sanitiser and certain other protective equipment. Tuesday, March 17 Berit Olofsson sent out a request to the natural science departments at the University to find out what disposable equipment they had, which could immediately be sent to the medical service. Examples of such equipment were pump bottles, safety masks, goggles, transparent aprons and protective gloves.

In the e-mail from the dean to the departments, there was a request regarding how much could be spared of the alcohols ethanol and isopropanol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerol, as well as medical containers and bottles. When Prof. Olofsson received a reply from the hospital, stating that hand sanitiser would be especially useful if the University were to manufacture it, the collection of the above ingredients for alcohol production started. An e-mail went out to the different chemistry departments giving the instruction to start production of hand sanitiser, together with a request concerning which employees were available to carry out the work. Positive responses came in rapidly, as well as information on how much chemicals were available.

“The response from colleagues and departments has been fantastic: in just a few hours, more than 250 litres had been collected and more is coming in every day”, said Lennart Bergström.  

First delivery to Danderyd Hospital

In the afternoon, the production of hand sanitisers began in a laboratory at the Department of Materials and Environmental Chemistry and at a research group at the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at SciLifeLab. At the same time, the collection of disposable articles and bottles of hand sanitiser was under the direction of research engineer Hanna Gustavsson. The same night, Danderyd Hospital was able to collect, among other things, three large boxes with hand sanitisers in pump bottles, 200 gloves, 40-50 face masks, 200 face masks and 30 litres of hand-made hand sanitiser.

“One reason that the collection of materials was so efficient was the involvement of the University's local lab safety network. These are people who usually work with lab safety at the departments. They let everything they had in their hands go and began to share the information, collect disposable items and make an inventory of the chemical raw materials supply. The whole group deserves high praise”, says Hanna Gustavsson.  

Continued production of hand sanitiser

Photo: Jakob Norinder.

At Stockholm University, the production of hand sanitiser continued. Several departments at the University have donated ingredients for hand sanitiser. The Swedish Museum of Natural History has also delivered ethanol. The University's internal supplier, SU Butiken, has donated most of its ethanol stock to the production of hand sanitiser and has also sent disposable gloves to the Danderyd Hospital. Cleaning staff at the University have collect bottles of hand sanitiser placed around the University so that they can be sent to the health care service.

Noted by media and government

The initiative has received attention in both traditional media, such as the newspapers Expressen and Dagens Nyheter, as well as in social media. Matilda Ernkrans, the Swedish Minister of Higher Education and Research, has tweeted about it, describing it as, “an important initiative,” and urging other universities to follow Stockholm University’s example. The Minister also invited those responsible for the production to a video meeting in which she thanked them for their efforts and on 30 March the Mayor of Stockholm, Anna Körnig Jerlmyr, visited the chemists.

Support from companies and individuals

The media attention has meant that companies and private individuals have heard about the initiative and have wanted to help. Petrolia, which manufactures, among other things, flushing liquid, has donated empty plastic cans. The Firefighters' Solidarity Movement offered to collect and carry away cans with hand sanitiser. The week after, Runa Vodka, GE Health and Absolut Vodka joined and have supplied ethanol.

The first deliveries of hand sanitiser went directly to the hospital and ambulance care, which had urgent needs. From Friday, 20 March, deliveries have gone to Stockholm City's newly established distribution center, for further distribution to municipalities according to the County Administrative Board's priority.

Almost 22,000 liters of newly produced hand sanitiser

At the beginning of the second week of production, there was a temporary setback while waiting for different authorities to resolve permits for operations. The production of hand spirits was still a few days but resumed. Up until Easter four labs produced hand sanitisers. Deliveries of ethanol were secured by GE Health and a tanker truck from Absolut Vodka has also been delivered. By Easter chemists had produced and delivered nearly 22,000 liters of hand spirit.

Foto: Anna Allergren

Berit Olofsson receives the delivery from Absolut Vodka. Photo: Anna Allergren

Several higher education institutions give help

At an early stage, Berit Olofsson called on other Swedish universities and companies to give support to the health care system to cope with the situation. Within a few days production of hand sanitisers was also started at Umeå University and Lund University, among others. Several higher education institutions, such as KTH and Malmö University, also began to produce protective equipment such as visors.

It has been a busy time for Berit Olofsson and her colleagues. She has been fully occuied coordinating deliveries, production and contacts with the hospitals, crisis management at the City of Stockholm and the County Administrative Board as well as with other authorities. Including answering calls and emails from journalists, companies and individuals who want to help.

"It is fantastic that the inventory was done so quickly so that we could start the production. This is a teamwork where many people do a fantastic job", says Berit Olofsson.

In one of the labs, Ehsan Hadi was mixing hand booze. When asked why he chose to help, he replied that we are all in the same boat now:
"What I as a chemist can do is use my knowledge to produce what society needs", he says.

Read about the manufacture of visors for care

* The collection of materials for healthcare has continued at Stockholm University. On 30 March, another delivery went to Danderyd Unversity Hospital. This time with visors, goggles, masks and protective robes.