Using inspiration from nature, a team of European researchers has harnessed new photonics technology to develop the first fluid-repellent, antibacterial, metal surface. This could lead to self-cleaning saucepans, toilets, and dishwashers they say.
Taking their ideas from defence mechanisms found in plants such as the Lotus leaf, the High Throughput Laser Texturing of Self-Cleaning and Antibacterial Surfaces, or TresClean project, has made a breakthrough that will enable the production of self-cleaning sheet metal on an industrial scale for the first time.
This new technique will initially be used to create antibacterial surfaces for use in the food production industry.
TresClean has used high-power laser cutting devices to create a specifically tailored, rough micro-topography on sheet metal that mimics the surface of the Lotus leaf, causing liquids to ‘bounce off’. This roughened surface creates miniature pockets of air that minimises the contact area between the surface and a liquid.
Professor Luca Romoli, project coordinator of TresClean explains: “In the same way that Lotus leaves keep themselves clean, without the need for cleaning products or chemicals, their jagged, rough surfaces enable water to stay as spherical droplets by preventing ‘spreading’.”
“Bacteria do not get a chance to stick because the contact with the metal surface and the liquid is reduced by over 80 per cent. We are looking at an anti-bacterial metal”.
While this replicating approach may currently exist for specific and expensive plastic components, it is a first for self-cleaning metal.