Category Archives: coatings

Bacteria and an anti-superbug coating from Ireland’s Sligo Institute of Technology

Unlike today’s (April 28, 2016) earlier piece about dealing with bacteria, the focus for this research is on superbugs and not the bacteria which form biofilm on medical implants and such. An April 21, 2016 news item on RTE News makes the announcement about a new means of dealing with superbugs,

A discovery by a team of scientists in Ireland could stem the spread of deadly superbugs predicted to kill millions of people worldwide over the coming decades.

The research has found an agent that can be baked into everyday items like smart-phones and door handles to combat the likes of MRSA and E. coli.

The nanotechnology has a 99.9 % kill rate of potentially lethal and drug-resistant bacteria, they say.

Lead scientist Professor Suresh C. Pillai, of Sligo Institute of Technology’s Nanotechnology Research Group, says the discovery is the culmination of 12 years work.

“This is a game changer,” he said.

“This breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs. It can effectively control the spread of bacteria.”

An April 21, 2016 Sligo Institute of Technology press release provides some context for the work and a few details about the coating,

News of the discovery comes just days after UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne warned that superbugs could become deadlier than cancer and are on course to kill 10 million people globally by 2050.

Speaking at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, Mr Osborne warned that the problem would slash global GDP by around €100 trillion if it was not tackled.

Using nanotechnology, the discovery is an effective and practical antimicrobial solution — an agent that kills microorganisms or inhibits their growth — that can be used to protect a range of everyday items.

Items include anything made from glass, metallics and ceramics including computer or tablet screens, smartphones, ATMs, door handles, TVs, handrails, lifts, urinals, toilet seats, fridges, microwaves and ceramic floor or wall tiles.

It will be of particular use in hospitals and medical facilities which are losing the battle against the spread of killer superbugs.

Other common uses would include in swimming pools and public buildings, on glass in public buses and trains, sneeze guards protecting food in delis and restaurants as well as in clean rooms in the medical sector.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to finally be at this stage. This breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs. It can effectvely control the spread of bacteria,” said Prof. Pillai.

He continued: “Every single person has a sea of bacteria on their hands. The mobile phone is the most contaminated personal item that we can have. Bacteria grows on the phone and can live there for up to five months. As it is contaminated with proteins from saliva and from the hand, It’s fertile land for bacteria and has been shown to carry 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.”

The research started at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)’s CREST and involves scientists now based at IT Sligo, Dublin City University (DCU) and the University of Surrey. Major researchers included Dr Joanna Carroll and Dr Nigel S. Leyland.

It has been funded for the past eight years by John Browne, founder and CEO of Kastus Technologies Ltd, who is bringing the product to a global market. He was also supported by significant investment from Enterprise Ireland.

As there is nothing that will effectively kill antibiotic-resistant superbugs completely from the surface of items, scientists have been searching for a way to prevent the spread.

This has been in the form of building or ‘baking’ antimicrobial surfaces into products during the manufacturing process.

However, until now, all these materials were toxic or needed UV light in order to make them work. This meant they were not practical for indoor use and had limited commercial application.

“The challenge was the preparation of a solution that was activated by indoor light rather than UV light and we have now done that,” said Prof Pillai.

The new water-based solution can be sprayed onto any glass, ceramic or metallic surface during the production process, rendering the surface 99.9 per cent resistant to superbugs like MRSA, E. coli and other fungi. [emphasis mine]

The solution is sprayed on the product — such as a smartphone glass surface — and then ‘baked’ into it, forming a super-hard surface. The coating is transparent, permanent and scratch resistant and actually forms a harder surface than the original glass or ceramic material.

The team first developed the revolutionary material to work on ceramics and has spent the last five years adapting the formula – which is non-toxic and has no harmful bi-products ‑- to make it work on glass and metallic surfaces.

Research is now underway by the group on how to adapt the solution for use in plastics and paint, allowing even wider use of the protective material.

Prof Pillai, Kastus and the team have obtained a US and a UK patent on the unique process with a number of global patent applications pending. It is rare for such an academic scientific discovery to have such commercial viability.

“I was sold on this from the first moment I heard about it. It’s been a long road to here but it was such a compelling story that it was hard to walk away from so I had to see it through to the end,” said John Browne, Kastus CEO.

He continued: “This is a game changer. The uniqueness of antimicrobia surface treatment means that the applications for it in the real world are endless. The multinational glass manufacturers we are in negotiations with to sell the product to have been searching for years to come up with such a solution but have failed.”

If the coating kills 99.9%, doesn’t that mean 0.1% are immune? If that’s the case, won’t they reproduce and eventually establish themselves as a new kind of superbug?

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Highly Efficient F, Cu doped TiO2 anti-bacterial visible light active photocatalytic coatings to combat hospital-acquired infections by Nigel S. Leyland, Joanna Podporska-Carroll, John Browne, Steven J. Hinder, Brid Quilty, & Suresh C. Pillai. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24770 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep24770 Published online: 21 April 2016

This paper is open access.

Bacteria and an anti-biofilm coating from Ben Gurion University of the Negev (Israel)

This anti-biofilm acts as an anti-adhesive and is another approach to dealing with unwanted bacteria on medical implants and on marine equipment. From an April 25, 2016 news item about the Israeli research on ScienceDaily,

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have developed an innovative anti-biofilm coating, which has significant anti-adhesive potential for a variety of medical and industrial applications.

According to the research published in Advanced Materials Interfaces, anti-adhesive patches that are developed from naturally occurring biomaterials can prevent destructive bacterial biofilm from forming on metal surfaces when they are immersed in water and other damp environments.

An April 25, 2016 American Associates Ben Gurion University of the Negev news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the research further without adding much detail (Note: A link has been removed),

“Our solution addresses a pervasive need to design environmentally friendly materials to impede dangerous surface bacteria growth,” the BGU researchers from the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering explain. “This holds tremendous potential for averting biofilm formed by surface-anchored bacteria and could have a tremendous impact.”

biofouling

Above: SEM micrographs of A. baumannii, P. aeruginosa (PA14), S. marcescens and P.stuartii biofilm architectures. The untreated control surface shows intricate bacteria densely embedded in the matrix. Biofilms were grown statically on the different surfaces.

The anti-adhesive could be used on medical implants, devices and surgical equipment where bacteria can contribute to chronic diseases, resist antibiotic treatment and thereby compromise the body’s defense system. The prevention of aquatic biofouling on ships and bridges is one of the industrial applications.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Novel Anti-Adhesive Biomaterial Patches: Preventing Biofilm with Metal Complex Films (MCF) Derived from a Microalgal Polysaccharide by Karina Golberg, Noa Emuna, T. P. Vinod, Dorit van Moppes, Robert S. Marks, Shoshana Malis Arad, and Ariel Kushmaro. Advanced Materials DOI: 10.1002/admi.201500486 Article first published online: 17 MAR 2016

© 2016 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

Nanotechnology and vinyl records

A Taipei Times April 17, 2016 article by Chang Chung-yi and Jake Chung announces,

… a recent technological breakthrough in the production of vinyl records might lead to a resurgence in their popularity, especially for audiophiles.

The Taiwan branch of Japanese company Ulvac unveiled samples of its vinyl records — coated in nano-scale molybdenum — at the Hi-End Audio Show in Kaohsiung that opened on Thursday and is to run through today, with more than 200 international brands displaying products at its 80 stalls.

Ulvac demonstrated the technology’s ability to fix common problems that plague vinyl records, such as scratching, poor heat conductivity and susceptibility to static electricity.

Ulvac staff said that the coating helps harden the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material that records are made of and prevents it from being easily damaged, adding that the coating also allows for more refined sound quality.

Local media reported that the coating was developed by Ulvac Taiwan vice chief executive officer Clare Wei (魏雲祥), who started listening to vinyl records last year.

After discovering the problems associated with the PVC used in the production of records, Wei spent more than NT$150 million (US$4.64 million) on laboratories, equipment and personnel to try to apply the nano-scale coating material on vinyl, the Chinese-language United Daily News reported.

According to one expert, the technology for producing records hadn’t changed since the 1940’s.

NanoMech get $10M investment from Saudi company

This news comes from the US state of Arkansas (not often featured here). The company, NanoMech, seems to be focused on lubricants and coatings according to an April 13, 2013 news release on Business Wire,

NanoMech announced today that it has secured $10 million in capital for leading its Series C Financing round from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV), the corporate venturing subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company. This capital infusion and relationship will significantly accelerate NanoMech’s manufacturing, sales and product development. NanoMech uses nanotechnology to develop advanced products for industrial and mechanical applications – such as lubricants, coatings and specialty chemicals. These products have enabled a step change in performance, efficiency and reliability in multiple industries such as energy, transportation, aerospace, manufacturing, automotive, agricultural equipment and military.

An April 11, 2013 NanoMech news release, which originated the item on Business Wire, provides a few more details and some quotes,

“NanoMech is honored to achieve this recognition and investment by the world’s largest energy company,” said NanoMech Chairman and CEO Jim Phillips. “Building on current momentum, NanoMech will use this financing and relationship to expand our global reach, invest in additional sales and marketing resources. We will also increase investment in our market-leading nanotechnology platforms, nGlide, GuardX, TuffTek, and nGuard.”

This capital infusion and relationship will significantly improve NanoMech’s manufacturing, sales and product development. Today’s announcement represents NanoMech’s most significant milestone in the continued validation and authentication of its unique technology.

“Response to NanoMech’s technology at Saudi Aramco and several of our major suppliers has been very positive,” said Cory Steffek, Managing Director, North America for SAEV. “A platform technology like NanoMech’s has significant potential to bring innovation, not only to the energy sector, but also to many other critical industries.”

NanoMech has validated and commercialized its innovations to iconic world-leading businesses and has completed an upgrade of its smart factory and labs. Several Fortune 100 and emerging companies have incorporated NanoMech’s nano-engineered solutions to create high-performance products.

“After more than a decade of extensive research and development, and recent large-scale commercialization successes,” said Dr. Ajay P. Malshe, CTO and Founder of NanoMech. “Our industry is leading disruptive nanoscience and is light years ahead of the competition. We are transforming entire industries.

The big talk is rooted not just in hype but also in a major US government push to commercialize nanotechnology research, which has received billions of dollars in government funding (from the NanoMech news release),

“Aramco’s strategic investment in NanoMech will transform the productivity paradigm for sustainable global energy production,” said Deborah Wince-Smith, CEO of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and NanoMech board member. “It will accelerate NanoMech’s position as the global leader in advanced nanotechnology.”

Watching paint dry at the nanoscale

When paint dries it separates itself into two layers and according to scientists this may have implications for improving performance in products ranging from paints to beauty and cosmetics. From a March 18, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

New research published today in the journal Physical Review Letters has described a new physical mechanism that separates particles according to their size during the drying of wet coatings. The discovery could help improve the performance of a wide variety of everyday goods, from paint to sunscreen.

A March 18, 2016 University of Surrey (England) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details,

Researchers from the University of Surrey [England, UK] in collaboration with the Université Claude Bernard, Lyon [France] used computer simulation and materials experiments to show how when coatings with different sized particles, such as paints dry, the coating spontaneously forms two layers.

This mechanism can be used to control the properties at the top and bottom of coatings independently, which could help increase performance of coatings across industries as diverse as beauty and pharmaceuticals.

Dr Andrea Fortini, of the University of Surrey and lead author explained:

“When coatings such as paint, ink or even outer layers on tablets are made, they work by spreading a liquid containing solid particles onto a surface, and allowing the liquid to evaporate. This is nothing new, but what is exciting is that we’ve shown that during evaporation, the small particles push away the larger ones, remaining at the top surface whilst the larger are pushed to bottom. This happens naturally.”

Dr Fortini continued, “This type of ‘self-layering’ in a coating could be very useful. For example, in a sun screen, most of the sunlight-blocking particles could be designed to push their way to the top, leaving particles that can adhere to the skin near the bottom of the coating. Typically the particles used in coatings have sizes that are 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair so engineering these coatings takes place at a microscopic level. ”

The team is continuing to work on such research to understand how to control the width of the layer by changing the type and amount of small particles in the coating and explore their use in industrial products such as paints, inks, and adhesives

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Dynamic Stratification in Drying Films of Colloidal Mixtures by Andrea Fortini, Ignacio Martín-Fabiani, Jennifer Lesage De La Haye, Pierre-Yves Dugas, Muriel Lansalot, Franck D’Agosto, Elodie Bourgeat-Lami, Joseph L. Keddie, and Richard P. Sear. Phys. Rev. Lett. 116, 118301 – Published 18 March 2016 DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.118301

© 2016 American Physical Society

This article is behind a paywall.

The world’s blackest coating material

Surrey NanoSystems (UK) is billing their Vantablack as the world’s blackest coating and they now have a new product in that line according to a March 10, 2016 company press release (received via email),

A whole range of products can now take advantage of Vantablack’s astonishing characteristics, thanks to the development of a new spray version of the world’s blackest coating material. The new substance, Vantablack S-VIS, is easily applied at large scale to virtually any surface, whilst still delivering the proven performance of Vantablack.

Vantablack’s nano-structure absorbs virtually all incident light, enabling the performance of precision optical systems to be optimized. The material’s developer, UK-based Surrey NanoSystems, has mimicked the performance of its original Vantablack with a new version that can be sprayed onto objects, rather than deposited using a chemical vapour deposition (CVD) process.

Vantablack S-VIS greatly widens the potential applications space, making it possible to coat larger complex shapes and structures. It is applied at temperatures that are easily withstood by common plastics, further extending its use. Even though the material is applied using a simple spraying process, it traps a massive 99.8% of incident light. This property gives Vantablack S-VIS its ability to make objects appear to be two-dimensional black holes, as it becomes impossible to make out surface topography.

The only other commercially-available material that is darker than the new S-VIS version is original Vantablack, which set a world record for absorption of light at a staggering 99.965%. Vantablack was originally developed for satellite-borne earth observation imaging and calibration systems, where it increases instrument sensitivity by improving absorption of stray ultraviolet, visible and infrared light. Since then, many other applications have emerged, including solar-energy collector elements, functional surfaces in buildings and architecture, cinematographic projectors, high-performance baffles and lenses, and scientific instruments.  Its ability to deceive the eye also opens up a range of design possibilities to enhance styling and appearance in luxury goods and jewellery [emphasis mine].

“The original Vantablack coating has had a big impact on the market, and is helping many companies to bring out higher-performing equipment,” says Ben Jensen of Surrey NanoSystems. “We are continuing to develop the technology, and the new sprayable version really does open up the possibility of applying super-black coatings in many more types of airborne or terrestrial applications. Possibilities include commercial products such as cameras, [emphasis mine] equipment requiring improved performance in a smaller form factor, as well as differentiating the look of products by means of the coating’s unique aesthetic appearance. It’s a major step forward compared with today’s commercial absorber coatings.”

Vantablack S-VIS is so effective that its performance far outstrips that of any other conventionally-applied coating, typically achieving a reflectance of less than 0.2%. Unlike other black absorbers, it offers this exceptional performance across a wide-range of viewing angles and wavelengths, which is critical for optical instruments, as well as in many aesthetic applications. It is, for example, some 17 times less reflective than the super-black paint used for minimizing stray light in the Hubble space telescope.

The active element of Vantablack S-VIS is a carbon nanotube matrix. The coating is applied using a proprietary process that includes a number of pre- and post-application steps to achieve its ultra-low reflectance.

Vantablack S-VIS can be applied to most stable surfaces, with the only major constraint being the ability to withstand temperatures of 100 degrees Centigrade, making Vantablack S-VIS suitable for many types of engineering-grade polymers and composite materials. The process is scalable and suitable for high-volume production on a range of substrate sizes.

The structured surface of Vantablack S-VIS means that it is not recommended for applications where it is subject to physical contact or abrasion. [emphasis mine] Ideally, it should be applied to surfaces that are protected, either within a packaged product, or behind a glass or other protective layer.

Coating with Vantablack S-VIS is offered as a service from Surrey NanoSystems’ processing centre in the UK. It is also available under license to companies wishing to integrate the coating into their production processes.

Presumably Surrey NanoSystems is looking at ways to make its Vantablack S-VIS capable of being used in products such as jewellery, cameras, and other consumers products where physical contact and abrasions are a strong possibility.

Helen Clark has written about Vantablack S-VIS in a March 9, 2016 article, which features an embedded video, for themarshalltown.com.

For the curious, here’s an image of the Vantablack coating,

Courtesy: Surrey NanoSystems

Courtesy: Surrey NanoSystems

A step toward commercializing smart windows with electrochromic film

A Dec. 4, 2015 news item on phys.org has reawakened my dream of electrochromic (smart) windows,

EC [electrochromic] film devices have been hampered in making the move from research to innovation by a number of technical and economic obstacles. EELICON [Enhanced Energy Efficiency and Comfort by Smart Light Transmittance Control] aims to overcome these obstacles by removing equipment limitations, automating processes, and validating a possible high-throughput prototype production process for a cost-effective, high-performance EC film technology.

Retrofitting windows with an electrically dimmable plastic film is a dream that is finally coming close to fruition. According to life cycle assessment studies, considerable energy savings may result when such films are included in architectural glazing, appliance doors, aircraft cabin windows, and vehicle sunroofs; and user comfort is enhanced as well.

The EU [European Union]-funded EELICON (Enhanced Energy Efficiency and Comfort by Smart Light Transmittance Control) project is focusing on an innovative switchable light transmittance technology that was developed in a project previously co-funded by the EU Framework Programmes. The project developed mechanically flexible and light-weight electrochromic (EC) film devices based on a conductive polymer nanocomposite technology with a property profile far beyond the current state-of-the art.

A Dec. 3, 2015 CORDIS (EU Community Research and Development Service) press release, which originated the news item, features an interview with the project coordinator and manager,

Dr. Uwe Posset, project coordinator and Expert Group Manager at ZfAE – Center for Applied Electrochemistry, Fraunhofer ISC, discusses the project’s achievements so far.

Do you have any results to show regarding the objectives that you have defined?

We are indeed working on a demonstration line to roll out a possible production process for electrochromic (EC) films, i.e. plastic films that can change colour upon application of a small voltage. Such films can be used to create smart windows for the control of sunlight and glare in buildings and vehicles. This technology is known to have the potential to save substantial amounts of energy for air conditioning. Darkening the film will decrease heat gain in the interior while maintaining the view through the window. The film provides possibilities to retrofit existing windows.

Do you have results from a life cycle assessment (LCA)?

Yes. The results essentially show that the targeted film technology can be produced with less primary energy than a standard EC window. We are currently working on extending the LCA to demonstrate the energy saving potential of the EC film during the use phase.

How much do you expect the technology to cost? How competitive will it be with existing technologies (e.g. price/performance)?

We target a price level of 200 €/m2, which is about a factor of 4 less than standard EC windows based on glass. To be really competitive, an even lower price may be required, but 200 €/m2 is usually discussed in the community as a threshold price for competitiveness. A full performance evaluation is currently in progress. According to discussions with potential end-users, producers and customers, price is the major driver, while some performance aspects may be negotiable, depending on the application.

How easy or difficult will the technology be to commercialise?

It is a complex process presumably requiring an industrial development phase of 2-3 years after the end of the project and substantial investment (currently estimated: €10 million).

Which are the most promising application areas?

Smart windows for energy-efficient buildings, vehicle sunroofs, smart aircraft cabin windows, switchable appliance doors, smart eyewear and visors.

What are the main benefits provided by the technology (any quantitative data would be welcome in addition to a qualitative description)?

There are many benefits. What we are developing is a film-based technology suitable for window integration and retrofitting. It will have short switching times (<1 min as compared to 10-15 min for state-of-the-art EC windows), and most importantly cost-effective, high-throughput production will be possible (roll-to-roll manufacturing).

Our technology will also have a higher bleached state visual light transmittance as compared to state-of-the-art EC windows (60-65 % vs. 50-55 %); a lower darkened state visual light transmittance as compared to state-of-the-art EC windows (5-10 % vs. 10-15 %); it will be fully colourless (“neutral tint”) bleached state with no residual colour or hue.; it will have an appreciable g-value modulation as opposed to liquid crystal-based smart window film technologies; it is mechanically rugged; and it has a large thermal operation range (-25 to +60 °C).

Once the project is completed, what will be the next steps? How do you see the technology evolving in the future?

We will then have to focus on industrial development – scaling from pilot to production scale. Huge markets will become accessible in the future if the price target can be met and minimum performance requirements are fulfilled.

You can find out more about EELICON here.

I’m glad to see they’re finding a way to make the technology affordable and that they’ve tackled the ‘ruggedness’ issue; see my Oct. 9, 2015 posting about smart windows and their need for anti-aging treatment (apparently the windows are prone to mechanical failures over time).

Primordial goo for implants

Using the words ‘goo’ and ‘nanotechnology’ together almost always leads to ‘end of world’ scenarios referred to as  ‘grey goo‘ or there’s an alternative ‘green goo’ version also known as ecophagy. Presumably, that’s why Australian researchers avoided the word ‘nanotechnology’ in their study of the original goo, primordial goo from which all life oozed, to develop a coating for medical implants. From a Nov. 16, 2015 (Australia) Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) press release (also on EurekAlert),

Australia’s national science research organisation, CSIRO, has developed an innovative new coating that could be used to improve medical devices and implants, thanks to a “goo” thought to be have been home to the building blocks of life.

The molecules from this primordial goo – known as prebiotic compounds – can be traced back billions of years and have been studied intensively since their discovery several decades ago.

For the first time, Australian researchers have uncovered a way to use these molecules to assist with medical treatments.

“We wanted to use these prehistoric molecules, which are believed to have been the source of all life evolving on Earth, to see if we could apply the chemistry in a practical way.” [Dr. Richard Evans, CSIRO researcher]

The team discovered that the coating is bio-friendly and cells readily grow and colonise it.

It could be applied to medical devices to improve their performance and acceptance by the body.

This could assist with a range of medical procedures.

“The non-toxic coating (left) is adhesive and will coat almost any material making its potential biomedical applications really broad,” Dr Evans said.

The researchers also experimented with adding silver compounds, in order to produce an antibacterial coating that can be used on devices such as catheters to avoid infections.

“Other compounds can also be added to implants to reduce friction, make them more durable and resistant to wear,” Dr Evans said.

The coating process the scientists developed is very simple and uses methods and substances that are readily available.

This means biomedical manufacturers can produce improved results more cost effectively compared to existing coatings.

CSIRO is the first organisation to investigate practical applications of this kind using prebiotic chemistry.

“This research opens the door to a host of new biomedical possibilities that are still yet to be explored,” Dr Evans said.

CSIRO is seeking to partner with biomedical manufacturers to exploit this technology.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Prebiotic-chemistry inspired polymer coatings for biomedical and material science applications by Helmut Thissen, Aylin Koegler, Mario Salwiczek, Christopher D Easton, Yue Qu, Trevor Lithgow, and Richard A Evans.  NPG Asia Materials (2015) 7, e225; doi:10.1038/am.2015.122 Published online 13 November 2015

This is an open access paper,

Nanotechnology-enabled flame retardant coating

This is a pretty remarkable demonstration made more so when you find out the flame retardant is naturally derived and nontoxic. From an Oct. 5, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

Inspired by a naturally occurring material found in marine mussels, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have created a new flame retardant to replace commercial additives that are often toxic and can accumulate over time in the environment and living animals, including humans.

An Oct. 5, 2015 University of Texas news release, which originated the news item, describes the situation with regard to standard flame retardants and what makes this new flame retardant technology so compelling,

Flame retardants are added to foams found in mattresses, sofas, car upholstery and many other consumer products. Once incorporated into foam, these chemicals can migrate out of the products over time, releasing toxic substances into the air and environment. Throughout the United States, there is pressure on state legislatures to ban flame retardants, especially those containing brominated compounds (BRFs), a mix of human-made chemicals thought to pose a risk to public health.

A team led by Cockrell School of Engineering associate professor Christopher Ellison found that a synthetic coating of polydopamine — derived from the natural compound dopamine — can be used as a highly effective, water-applied flame retardant for polyurethane foam. Dopamine is a chemical compound found in humans and animals that helps in the transmission of signals in the brain and other vital areas. The researchers believe their dopamine-based nanocoating could be used in lieu of conventional flame retardants.

“Since polydopamine is natural and already present in animals, this question of toxicity immediately goes away,” Ellison said. “We believe polydopamine could cheaply and easily replace the flame retardants found in many of the products that we use every day, making these products safer for both children and adults.”

Using far less polydopamine by weight than typical of conventional flame retardant additives, the UT Austin team found that the polydopamine coating on foams leads to a 67 percent reduction in peak heat release rate, a measure of fire intensity and imminent danger to building occupants or firefighters. The polydopamine flame retardant’s ability to reduce the fire’s intensity is about 20 percent better than existing flame retardants commonly used today.

Researchers have studied the use of synthetic polydopamaine for a number of health-related applications, including cancer drug delivery and implantable biomedical devices. However, the UT Austin team is thought to be one of the first to pursue the use of polydopamine as a flame retardant. To the research team’s surprise, they did not have to change the structure of the polydopamine from its natural form to use it as a flame retardant. The polydopamine was coated onto the interior and exterior surfaces of the polyurethane foam by simply dipping it into a water solution of dopamine for several days.

Ellison said he and his team were drawn to polydopamine because of its ability to adhere to surfaces as demonstrated by marine mussels who use the compound to stick to virtually any surface, including Teflon, the material used in nonstick cookware. Polydopamine also contains a dihydroxy-ring structure linked with an amine group that can be used to scavenge or remove free radicals. Free radicals are produced during the fire cycle as a polymer degrades, and their removal is critical to stopping the fire from continuing to spread. Polydopamine also produces a protective coating called char, which blocks fire’s access to its fuel source — the polymer. The synergistic combination of both these processes makes polydopamine an attractive and powerful flame retardant.

Ellison and his team are now testing to see whether they can shorten the nanocoating treatment process or develop a more convenient application process.

“We believe this alternative to flame retardants can prove very useful to removing potential hazards from products that children and adults use every day,” Ellison said. “We weren’t expecting to find a flame retardant in nature, but it was a serendipitous discovery.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Bioinspired Catecholic Flame Retardant Nanocoating for Flexible Polyurethane Foams by Joon Hee Cho, Vivek Vasagar, Kadhiravan Shanmuganathan, Amanda R. Jones, Sergei Nazarenko, and Christopher J. Ellison. Chem. Mater., 2015, 27 (19), pp 6784–6790 DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.5b03013
Publication Date (Web): September 9, 2015
Copyright © 2015 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall. It should be noted that researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India were also involved in this work.

Commercializing nanotechnology: Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs and Argonne National Laboratories

Breakout Labs

I last wrote about entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs project in an Oct. 26, 2011 posting announcing its inception. An Oct. 6, 2015 Breakout Labs news release (received in my email) highlights a funding announcement for four startups of which at least three are nanotechnology-enabled,

Breakout Labs, a program of Peter Thiel’s philanthropic organization, the Thiel Foundation, announced today that four new companies advancing scientific discoveries in biomedical, chemical engineering, and nanotechnology have been selected for funding.

“We’re always hearing about bold new scientific research that promises to transform the world, but far too often the latest discoveries are left withering in a lab,” said Lindy Fishburne, Executive Director of Breakout Labs. “Our mission is to help a new type of scientist-entrepreneur navigate the startup ecosystem and build lasting companies that can make audacious scientific discoveries meaningful to everyday life. The four new companies joining the Breakout Labs portfolio – nanoGriptech, Maxterial, C2Sense, and CyteGen – embody that spirit and we’re excited to be working with them to help make their vision a reality.”

The future of adhesives: inspired by geckos

Inspired by the gecko’s ability to scuttle up walls and across ceilings due to their millions of micro/nano foot-hairs,nanoGriptech (http://nanogriptech.com/), based in Pittsburgh, Pa., is developing a new kind of microfiber adhesive material that is strong, lightweight, and reusable without requiring glues or producing harmful residues. Currently being tested by the U.S. military, NASA, and top global brands, nanoGriptech’s flagship product Setex™ is the first adhesive product of its kind that is not only strong and durable, but can also be manufactured at low cost, and at scale.

“We envision a future filled with no-leak biohazard enclosures, ergonomic and inexpensive car seats, extremely durable aerospace adhesives, comfortable prosthetic liners, high performance athletic wear, and widely available nanotechnology-enabled products manufactured less expensively — all thanks to the grippy little gecko,” said Roi Ben-Itzhak, CFO and VP of Business Development for nanoGriptech.

A sense of smell for the digital world

Despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent goals to drastically reduce food waste, most consumers don’t realize the global problem created by 1.3 billion metric tons of food wasted each year — clogging landfills and releasing unsustainable levels of methane gas into the atmosphere. Using technology developed at MIT’s Swager lab, Cambridge, Ma.-based C2Sense(http://www.c2sense.com/) is developing inexpensive, lightweight hand-held sensors based on carbon nanotubes which can detect fruit ripeness and meat, fish and poultry freshness. Smaller than a half of a business card, these sensors can be developed at very low cost, require very little power to operate, and can be easily integrated into most agricultural supply chains, including food storage packaging, to ensure that food is picked, stored, shipped, and sold at optimal freshness.

“Our mission is to bring a sense of smell to the digital world. With our technology, that package of steaks in your refrigerator will tell you when it’s about to go bad, recommend some recipe options and help build out your shopping list,” said Jan Schnorr, Chief Technology Officer of C2Sense.

Amazing metals that completely repel water

MaxterialTM, Inc. develops amazing materials that resist a variety of detrimental environmental effects through technology that emulates similar strategies found in nature, such as the self-cleaning lotus leaf and antifouling properties of crabs. By modifying the surface shape or texture of a metal, through a method that is very affordable and easy to introduce into the existing manufacturing process, Maxterial introduces a microlayer of air pockets that reduce contact surface area. The underlying material can be chemically the same as ever, retaining inherent properties like thermal and electrical conductivity. But through Maxterial’s technology, the metallic surface also becomes inherently water repellant. This property introduces the superhydrophobic maxterial as a potential solution to a myriad of problems, such as corrosion, biofouling, and ice formation. Maxterial is currently focused on developing durable hygienic and eco-friendly anti-corrosion coatings for metallic surfaces.

“Our process has the potential to create metallic objects that retain their amazing properties for the lifetime of the object – this isn’t an aftermarket coating that can wear or chip off,” said Mehdi Kargar, Co-founder and CEO of Maxterial, Inc. “We are working towards a day when shipping equipment can withstand harsh arctic environments, offshore structures can resist corrosion, and electronics can be fully submersible and continue working as good as new.”

New approaches to combat aging

CyteGen (http://cytegen.com/) wants to dramatically increase the human healthspan, tackle neurodegenerative diseases, and reverse age-related decline. What makes this possible now is new discovery tools backed by the dream team of interdisciplinary experts the company has assembled. CyteGen’s approach is unusually collaborative, tapping into the resources and expertise of world-renowned researchers across eight major universities to focus different strengths and perspectives to achieve the company’s goals. By approaching aging from a holistic, systematic point of view, rather than focusing solely on discrete definitions of disease, they have developed a new way to think about aging, and to develop treatments that can help people live longer, healthier lives.

“There is an assumption that aging necessarily brings the kind of physical and mental decline that results in Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. Evidence indicates otherwise, which is what spurred us to launch CyteGen,” said George Ugras, Co-Founder and President of CyteGen.

To date, Breakout Labs has invested in more than two dozen companies at the forefront of science, helping radical technologies get beyond common hurdles faced by early stage companies, and advance research and development to market much more quickly. Portfolio companies have raised more than six times the amount of capital invested in the program by the Thiel Foundation, and represent six Series A valuations ranging from $10 million to $60 million as well as one acquisition.

You can see the original Oct. 6, 2015 Breakout Labs news release here or in this Oct. 7, 2015 news item on Azonano.

Argonne National Labs and Nano Design Works (NDW) and the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS)

The US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory’s Oct. 6, 2015 press release by Greg Cunningham announced two initiatives meant to speed commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled products for the energy storage and other sectors,

Few technologies hold more potential to positively transform our society than energy storage and nanotechnology. Advances in energy storage research will revolutionize the way the world generates and stores energy, democratizing the delivery of electricity. Grid-level storage can help reduce carbon emissions through the increased adoption of renewable energy and use of electric vehicles while helping bring electricity to developing parts of the world. Nanotechnology has already transformed the electronics industry and is bringing a new set of powerful tools and materials to developers who are changing everything from the way energy is generated, stored and transported to how medicines are delivered and the way chemicals are produced through novel catalytic nanomaterials.

Recognizing the power of these technologies and seeking to accelerate their impact, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory has created two new collaborative centers that provide an innovative pathway for business and industry to access Argonne’s unparalleled scientific resources to address the nation’s energy and national security needs. These centers will help speed discoveries to market to ensure U.S. industry maintains a lead in this global technology race.

“This is an exciting time for us, because we believe this new approach to interacting with business can be a real game changer in two areas of research that are of great importance to Argonne and the world,” said Argonne Director Peter B. Littlewood. “We recognize that delivering to market our breakthrough science in energy storage and nanotechnology can help ensure our work brings the maximum benefit to society.”

Nano Design Works (NDW) and the Argonne Collaborative Center for Energy Storage Science (ACCESS) will provide central points of contact for companies — ranging from large industrial entities to smaller businesses and startups, as well as government agencies — to benefit from Argonne’s world-class expertise, scientific tools and facilities.

NDW and ACCESS represent a new way to collaborate at Argonne, providing a single point of contact for businesses to assemble tailored interdisciplinary teams to address their most challenging R&D questions. The centers will also provide a pathway to Argonne’s fundamental research that is poised for development into practical products. The chance to build on existing scientific discovery is a unique opportunity for businesses in the nano and energy storage fields.

The center directors, Andreas Roelofs of NDW and Jeff Chamberlain of ACCESS, have both created startups in their careers and understand the value that collaboration with a national laboratory can bring to a company trying to innovate in technologically challenging fields of science. While the new centers will work with all sizes of companies, a strong emphasis will be placed on helping small businesses and startups, which are drivers of job creation and receive a large portion of the risk capital in this country.

“For a startup like mine to have the ability to tap the resources of a place like Argonne would have been immensely helpful,” said Roelofs. “We”ve seen the power of that sort of access, and we want to make it available to the companies that need it to drive truly transformative technologies to market.”

Chamberlain said his experience as an energy storage researcher and entrepreneur led him to look for innovative approaches to leveraging the best aspects of private industry and public science. The national laboratory system has a long history of breakthrough science that has worked its way to market, but shortening that journey from basic research to product has become a growing point of emphasis for the national laboratories over the past couple of decades. The idea behind ACCESS and NDW is to make that collaboration even easier and more powerful.

“Where ACCESS and NDW will differ from the conventional approach is through creating an efficient way for a business to build a customized, multi-disciplinary team that can address anything from small technical questions to broad challenges that require massive resources,” Chamberlain said. “That might mean assembling a team with chemists, physicists, computer scientists, materials engineers, imaging experts, or mechanical and electrical engineers; the list goes on and on. It’s that ability to tap the full spectrum of cross-cutting expertise at Argonne that will really make the difference.”

Chamberlain is deeply familiar with the potential of energy storage as a transformational technology, having led the formation of Argonne’s Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR). The center’s years-long quest to discover technologies beyond lithium-ion batteries has solidified the laboratory’s reputation as one of the key global players in battery research. ACCESS will tap Argonne’s full battery expertise, which extends well beyond JCESR and is dedicated to fulfilling the promise of energy storage.

Energy storage research has profound implications for energy security and national security. Chamberlain points out that approximately 1.3 billion people across the globe do not have access to electricity, with another billion having only sporadic access. Energy storage, coupled with renewable generation like solar, could solve that problem and eliminate the need to build out massive power grids. Batteries also have the potential to create a more secure, stable grid for countries with existing power systems and help fight global climate disruption through adoption of renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Argonne researchers are pursuing hundreds of projects in nanoscience, but some of the more notable include research into targeted drugs that affect only cancerous cells; magnetic nanofibers that can be used to create more powerful and efficient electric motors and generators; and highly efficient water filtration systems that can dramatically reduce the energy requirements for desalination or cleanup of oil spills. Other researchers are working with nanoparticles that create a super-lubricated state and other very-low friction coatings.

“When you think that 30 percent of a car engine’s power is sacrificed to frictional loss, you start to get an idea of the potential of these technologies,” Roelofs said. “But it’s not just about the ideas already at Argonne that can be brought to market, it’s also about the challenges for businesses that need Argonne-level resources. I”m convinced there are many startups out there working on transformational ideas that can greatly benefit from the help of a place Argonne to bring those ideas to fruition. That is what has me excited about ACCESS and NDW.”

For more information on ACCESS, see: access.anl.gov

For more information on NDW, see: nanoworks.anl.gov

You can read more about the announcement in an Oct. 6, 2015 article by Greg Watry for R&D magazine featuring an interview with Andreas Roelofs.