The PhysOrg.com site has an intriguing article about a new nanotechnology product that, if the claims for it hold up, has the potential to improve a wide range of products, from clothing to railway equipment. The product is a liquid glass spray (technically called SiO2 Ultra-Thin Layering) that consists of almost pure silicon dioxide nanoparticles in a water- or alcohol-based carrier solution. When sprayed on, it forms a coating about 100 nanometers thick (~30 molecules), which is flexible and breathable.
Spray-on liquid glass is transparent, non-toxic, and can protect virtually any surface against almost any damage from hazards such as water, UV radiation, dirt, heat, and bacterial infections.
The material is produced by a family-owned German company called Nanopool, which also holds the patent for the process. Surfaces coated with the spray-on glass repel water and dirt, and block UV light (as does ordinary glass). The coating makes the surface easy to clean, without the use of cleaning or sanitizing chemicals:
Food processing companies in Germany have already carried out trials of the spray, and found sterile surfaces that usually needed to be cleaned with strong bleach to keep them sterile needed only a hot water rinse if they were coated with liquid glass.
The National Health Service [NHS] in Britain is said to be interested in the use of the coating to improve hygiene in hospitals and other medical settings.
Tests of the spray on plants and wooden structures suggest that it also repels insects and mildew. Because it is breathable, it also can potentially be used to make clothing that is highly resistant to water and stains. The company claims that a single application of the spray to most surfaces will last at least a year. Since the coating is essentially pure silicon dioxide, like glass, it is non-toxic and environmentally benign.
The product has apparently just come on the market in Germany, and is planned to be introduced in Britain during 2010. It is probably too early to know how successful it will be, but the concept is certainly intriguing.
The Daily Telegraph also has an article on the product.