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Bactericide flooring

Film with titanium oxide nanoparticles helps control infection

SERGIO TEBCHERANI/UEPGStages of the formation of the fine film, obtained by electronic scanning microscopySERGIO TEBCHERANI/UEPG

A very fine film of titanium oxide nanoparticles with powerful anti-bacterial properties, which can be used on ceramic flooring, tiles, glass, plastic and other materials, was developed at the State University of Ponta Grossa (UEPG), in the State of Paraná, in partnership with Paulista State University (Unesp) at Araraquara, São Paulo State. The film was developed using a simpler, less expensive method. “We used high pressure in the process, in a purpose-built oven, and thus were able to reduce the temperature to roughly 400ºC to make this thin film”, explains Thiago Sequinel, a doctoral candidate at Unesp’s Chemistry Institute, who headed the research work. Sequinel was the winner of this year’s Idea to Product international competition, held every year at the University of Texas, in Austin, USA. The aim of this competition, held since 2001, is to develop new generations of technology entrepreneurs.

Sequinel represented the Nanoita team, coordinated by Sergio Mazurek Tebcherani, from UEPG and from INCTMN, National Institute of Science and Technology for Nanotechnological Material. The other competitors came from 15 universities in Asia, Europe, North America and South America. Sweden’s Stockholm Business School was the runner-up and the USA’s University of Colorado placed third.

The film can be applied to floor tiles or tiles in hospitals and industrial kitchens. “The bacteria are exterminated when they come into contact with the film; this reduces hospital infection and food poisoning rates”, says Sequinel. In the future, the product will be available for home use as a means of dealing with bacteria-induced allergies. The methodology employed to make the material resulted in a thin, high-quality film. “As the material adheres perfectly to the surface to which it is applied, its life span equals that of the ceramic tile, as the film doesn’t come unstuck”, explains the researcher. Sequinel has worked on the development of a new method to produce fine film ever since his master’s degree in materials engineering at UEPG, under the guidance of professor Tebcherani.

During his doctorate at Unesp in Araraquara, under the guidance of professor José Arana Varela, Sequinel continued his line of research. Varela and Tebcherani partnered him in this work. Unesp’s professor Elson Longo, director-general of the Multidisciplinary Center for Ceramic Materials Development and coordinator of the INCTMN also contributed to this endeavor by providing the description of this material.

Products such as anti-bacterial sprays, used on hospital floors and other places where the battle against infections is ongoing do exist. “Over time, however, the film formed by the spray comes lose from the substrate”, says Sequinel. In the case of the fine film of titanium oxide nanoparticles, which is highly stable inorganic compound, the anti-bacterial effect is only affected if cracks or breaks appear in the floor treated with it. The product’s method also allows for a diversified line of products. To this end, the only change consists of using a different oxide to form the film. In other words, at the current research stage, Sequinel has used the same process to obtain fine films for other applications, in particular for electronic devices. One of such studies focuses on the mechanical properties of tin oxide nanoparticles, a semiconducting material. There is a strong possibility that this compound can be used in lenses on glasses to filter the rays from the sun.

In the Idea to Product competition, hospitals and the food industry were the two main niches of interest for the titanium oxide nanoparticle. “The market in Brazil for this fine film comes to roughly US$26.5 billion”, says Sequinel. This data was provided by Anfacer, the National Association of Surfacing Ceramics Manufacturers, the industry’s trade association, and resulted from the consulting services of professor Rene José Rodrigues Fernandes, director of the Entrepreneurship and New Business Center of FGV, the Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo. “Professor Fernandes helped transform the idea into a product”, says Sequinel. Since 2008, FGV has promoted the competition in Latin America. To take part in it, the participants must submit the concept of the developed product and show that the innovation has the potential to generate new business ventures.

As the winner of this round of the competition in September of this year, during which it stood out among the 27 other participants from Brazilian and Latin American institutions, Nanoita went to the final round, held in the United States. Here, the project was evaluated by a committee of experts from such fields as engineering, economics, chemistry and physics, along with private sector representatives. Sequinel was awarded a trophy and US$10 thousand.

At present, the researcher is looking into how to adapt the process for application on a broader scale. Meanwhile, three patent requests have been submitted already: one concerns obtaining the nanoparticles and the other two, forming the film. The project team is also studying how best to sell the product. It has been contacted by several companies from the ceramics industry, but no licensing agreement has materialized yet.