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 From foam to bone: Plant cellulose can pave the way for healthy bone implants
19.03.2019 | University of British Columbia

nachricht Additive printing processes for flexible touchscreens: increased materials and cost efficiency
19.03.2019 | INM - Leibniz-Institut für Neue Materialien gGmbH

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

Im Focus: Revealing the secret of the vacuum for the first time

New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum

For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

To proliferate or not to proliferate

21.03.2019 | Life Sciences

Magnetic micro-boats

21.03.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Motorless pumps and self-regulating valves made from ultrathin film

21.03.2019 | HANNOVER MESSE

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>