Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Cleaning with sunlight

03.07.2012
The sun breaks through the clouds – and surfaces start cleaning themselves! It may sound like magic, but in fact it’s all thanks to the addition of titanium dioxide molecules. Activated by UV light, they trigger a reaction which destroys bacteria, algae and fungi, keeping items such as the armrests of garden chairs nice and clean.

Summer is just around the corner and it’s time to dust off the garden tables and chairs. But garden furniture that has been left in the shade too long is often covered with a slimy film of algae, moss, bacteria and fungi which is difficult or even impossible to remove.


The surface coated with titanium
dioxide molecules (bottom) looks very
different from the non-coated sample
(top). (© Fraunhofer IGB)

Scientists are now hoping that they can solve this problem by incorporating titanium dioxide molecules in the plastic used to make the garden chair and adding a little bit of sunlight. When these titanium dioxide molecules are ‘activated’ by the UV light in the sun’s rays, they act as a kind of catalyst, triggering an electrochemical reaction which produces free radicals. These and other active molecules strike a fatal blow to bacteria, fungi and similar organisms, first destroying the cell walls and then penetrating the cytoplasm – the substance that fills the cell – and damaging the bacteria’s DNA. As a result, the organic substances are destroyed instead of remaining stuck to the surface.

But just how well do these photocatalytic coatings work? What organic elements do they destroy, and what are they powerless against? These two questions have been the subject of investigation by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart. “For example, we ran some outdoor tests on garden chair armrests with photocatalytic coatings and compared them to ones made from conventional plastic,” says Dr. Iris Trick, group manager at the IGB. Dr. Trick and her team sprayed the coated and uncoated armrests with a mixture of various bacteria, mosses, algae and fungi and then left them exposed to the weather for two years.

At the end of the test, it was almost impossible to remove the layer of dirt from the normal armrests – yet the armrests made from photocatalytic plastics were still almost completely clean and white, even after spending two years outside. The researchers also tested the effectiveness of their special coatings on armrests and a range of other surfaces in the lab. To do this, they applied up to 30 different kinds of fungal, bacterial and algal cultures to coated and uncoated surfaces and compared how the cultures evolved. In addition, they analyzed the degradation products generated on the self-cleaning surfaces by the electrochemical reaction.

Self-cleaning walls and displays
The opportunities offered by titanium dioxide molecules extend far beyond armrests. For example, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart are working on paints for building façades which contain titanium dioxide particles. If the wall gets dirty, the photocatalysis degrades the organic contaminants and the paint stays reasonably clean. The scientists have even developed a self-cleaning coating for glass surfaces: “If you apply a thin coating of titanium dioxide to a glass surface such as a smartphone screen, the skin oils and fingerprints gradually disappear from the display by themselves,” says Dr. Michael Vergöhl, head of department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST in Braunschweig and head of the Fraunhofer Photocatalysis Alliance. All that is needed is one hour of sunlight – unlike previous photocatalytic surfaces, which would have required the smartphone to be left in the sun for three days.

The next step is to develop new materials that can also be activated by artificial light. The Fraunhofer Photocatalysis Alliance is a group of ten Fraunhofer institutes which have decided to combine their expertise in this field. It covers the full spectrum of photocatalytic surface development and offers considerable know-how from a single source.

Dr. Michael Vergöhl | Fraunhofer-Institute
Further information:
http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2012/july/cleaning-with-sunlight.html

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons
19.02.2018 | Elhuyar Fundazioa

nachricht When Proteins Shake Hands
19.02.2018 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>