In a green, clean and technological world, a self-cleaning surface might not be all that far-fetched.
Recently, NanoTouch Materials, a company of just four employees in Forest, secured a $2 million Tobacco Commission grant for research and development for its product, NanoSeptic Surface. The company plans to use that money to secure a patent later this year, expand into a new facility and complete a clinical trial to generate sales and attract investors.
The product, which can resemble a large sticker, can be placed at high-traffic points like door handles. Through a light-powered process, the surface oxidizes organic material and breaks it down to its base elements.
Liberty Christian Academy has 50 self-cleaning computer mouse pads for students. Earlier this year, the company sent 3,500 such surfaces to a hospital in Saudi Arabia to help prevent the spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome.
“It is not meant to clean your hand or clean objects set in the surface. The surface itself is simply self-cleaning,” said Mark Sisson, who co-founded the company with his partner Dennis Hackemeyer.
The two thought of the idea several years ago, while at a restaurant, watching a bus boy clean a table with an overused rag. Unlike hand sanitizer, the NanoSeptic surface can’t dry out your hands. An ingredient used in it – titanium dioxide – is also in toothpaste, milk and sunscreen. Sisson said he’d have no qualms about eating off it.
“This works at a nano scale, which is very, very, very small,” Sisson said. “And so at that scale a piece of salami would look like Mount Everest.” In other words, if you left a slice of salami on the NanoSeptic Surface, it would not turn into compost over the next several days.
“I think one of the most interesting things about this project is the wide range of potential applications,” said Bob Bailey, executive director of the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research, a research development center in Forest where NanoTouch is based.
“The R&D (Tobacco Commission) grant is the most difficult one to get because it goes through the most detailed review and approval process,” Bailey said.
With the grant money, Sisson hopes to complete the patent later this year and to complete a large-scale clinical trial over the next three years. The patent will allow NanoTouch to license their surface to other manufactures to use in their products. The clinical trial will give the product the credibility it needs to gain the confidence of hospitals and acute care facilities.
Already, Sisson and Hackemeyer have been approached by venture capital firms, but opted for the TC grant in order to not give up any company equity. “The last one that contacted us was interested in investing between $3 (million) to $5 million,” Sisson said.
“I think at this point, the company is very young,” Sisson said. “The smart decision at this point, would be to generate real sales and performance so that they’d have something concrete to talk to the investor about.”
The company’s patent lawyer found no other similar products to theirs on the market. “The closest thing we’ve seen, there is a company in the U.K. who makes . a tray that mounts to a door and in that tray is an insert that’s like a sponge that’s loaded with hand sanitizers,” Sisson said. “. We looked at that and said, ‘OK, that’s not any competition.'”
In the Lynchburg area, NanoSeptic Surfaces are installed – just as a sticker would be, by peeling and placing — at J. Crew, the Craddock Terry Hotel and the two YMCAs. When the surface starts to erode from heavy usage and its print begins to fade, the company advises it be replaced.
The surface isn’t mean to be a substitute for hand-washing, although it creates clean surfaces. “As a microbial geneticist, I am really excited by the latest approaches to kill pathogens in a safe and environmentally conscious way,” said Amr Saeb, head of biotechnology at King Abdul-aziz University Research Center with King Saud University, in a press release. The NanoSeptic Surface was able to kill 100 percent of E. coli within an hour, the release said.
The full health implications of the surfaces won’t be better understood until the clinical trials are complete. Until then, Sisson said “common sense” grants its appeal and the company mission is to “create safer environments to live, work and play.”
Filed Under: Materials • advanced