Insights from industry

Using Nanotechnology to Enhance the Properties of Everyday Materials

Our understanding of the nanoscale world is continually developing. Aäron Claeys, founder of Nanex, saw the potential of nanotechnology when the science was still in its infancy and recognised that nanoparticle based coatings could play a prominent role in extending the lifespan of materials such as leather and textiles. In addition to this Nanex now plan to start working on novel technologies that use nanoparticles to purify pollution in water and air and to prevent the spread of bacteria.

AZoM spoke to Aäron about the history of Nanex, how he expects nanoscience to impact the world and Nanex’s plans for the future.  

Please could you tell me about how Nanex got started as a company? What inspired you?

I started Nanex because I had a keen interest in nanotechnology and how it could be used to improve the environmental issues we are facing. The field of nanotechnology was beginning to open up to the wider world and I was fascinated by it. I was amazed that when a material is reduced to the nanoscale it develops novel properties which are not observed at the microscale. These properties can sometimes be themselves useful, or often unwanted properties on the macro scale can be removed.

To me, it was obvious that nanotechnology was going to impact every industry there is. And of course, as a young person I was concerned about the growing strain that humanity is placing on the environment. I also saw all of the interest around green technology such as solar and clean energy systems and began to wonder how nanotechnology could be used to enhance these.

From that point on, I started to research nanotechnology on a very broad scale as, at this point, I didn’t know which direction I was going to take my research in. I began working with some nanotechnology specialists who introduced me to the coatings industry. It was then that I realised that protective coatings which exploit nanotechnology could improve the sustainability, the durability and the quality of materials. These coatings provide a protective layer which can be anti-bacterial, withstand scratches, clean itself, can be easily cleaned without the use of heavy detergents or even any detergents at all!

Coating nanotechnology was already relatively advanced at this point and, having started from scratch and having limited resources, I saw this as a perfect starting point. We started working on new coating materials and products to develop for the market. After seeing that coatings for textiles and leathers were in high demand for both manufacturers and wholesalers we began to focus our efforts here.

Our research team started to experiment further on different types of nanoparticles and nanoparticles of different sizes. The size of the nanoparticles in the dispersion has a significant effect on the properties and chemistry of the solution we produce.

We’ve now been developing our most recent range of products for the last nine months. We’ve developed some advanced coatings that can improve the quality of leathers. We live in a society built on over-consumption where things no longer last – we want our sprays to help goods last longer so people have more time to enjoy them. Our sprays also reduce the need to use detergent when washing clothes, reducing environmental impact.

Shutterstock |  Volodymyr Plysiuk

What coating technologies did you begin with when the company first started?

We looked at different nanoparticles and how they reacted with different materials. We also researched traditional chemistry, such as water-repellent, stain release, and anti-bacterial effects.

We considered a wide range of nanoparticle technologies such as silicon dioxide, graphene, selenium and titanium dioxide and countless others it’s a continual research. We were evaluating the price, the quality and if the technology is ready for commercial use. We didn’t want anything that was too niche and expensive. We wanted to make sure that we developed an accessible and affordable product which allowed everyone to feel the benefit.

What types of nanoparticles have you been testing?

In addition to the silicon dioxide and different sized nanoparticles we've also been testing ceramic particles, titanium dioxides and nanocrystals. Nanocrystals are really interesting as they can be crystallized to give increased hardness with specific UV blockers.

What types of properties are you aiming towards? Which properties is most desirable to add to your coating?

The most conventional are water and stain repellent properties, however we would like to add much more to that. We are already carrying out a lot of research. As I mentioned, some self-cleaning properties could be induced using a mixture of different nanoparticles, which are specific UV blockers, so the discoloration of clothes or shoes is reduced.

We are also investigating nanoparticles which can increase the hardness so the material can be more scratch proof or less prone to other forms of damage. These multi-functional properties are the way we're going right now.

Shutterstock |  Kateryna Kon

Where do you see nanotech coatings being used in the future?

For the time being we are currently focusing on the textiles and leather industries. However, we’re also seeing a lot of requests coming through from many different industries from the furniture and outdoor market to motorcycle and scooter manufacturers.

There are countless different areas in which Nanex coatings can be used but these markets will be the first that we explore as the demand is so high.

Do you expect to see the coatings being used in any unconventional applications?

We’ve already seen the coatings being used unconventionally. For example, we have a customer who is using the coatings in his artwork.

This artist is applying Nanex coatings on concrete using a stencil and once it has dried the coating becomes invisible. The artwork then becomes visible whenever it rains as the water will only follow where the coating has not been applied.

Where do you see Nanex in 5 years’ time? What do you have planned for the future?

So far, we’ve only focused on one industry and we know that our technology has the scope to benefit so many different industries. We have the expertise and knowledge on our team to offer consultancy and work on joint development projects in a wide range of different areas. We’re particularly interested in adding nanoparticles to construction materials or other composite materials to make them lighter, more efficient or to make them antibacterial.

We have ideas about how we could create biodegradable plastics which would reduce the excessive amount of waste humans are currently producing at landfills. We’re also interested in seeing how nanoparticles can be incorporated into water and air purification technology.

We want to broaden the scope of our projects and want to stimulate, invite and inform other companies and industries to connect with us so we can work together to create next-generation materials that will make the planet better. Whether it is antibacterial packaging that extends the lifetime of food or if it is purification systems that reduces the spread of disease.         

Shutterstock | Komsan Loonprom

When can our readers find out more about your upcoming launch?

In around two months we are going to be ready to do our big launch. It will be in Belgium at the start and then we will expand over Europe. We already have distributers in Asia so we expect to rapidly expand there.

We’re going to launch in just a matter of months so keep your eyes peeled as things are going to get exciting.

About Aäron Claeys

From an early age, Aaron had a strong passion for entrepreneurship and how new ideas could be used to face the World’s environmental challenges. Following years of self-study Aaron aimed towards creating a company that would help in building a more sustainable world. This is how Nanex was founded.

After seven years of intensive research Nanex developed several different coatings that utilised nanotechnology to improve the lifespan, and reduce detergent use, for commodity items such as shoes and clothes.

Aaron also offers his expertise as an environmental nanotechnology specialist both as a consultant and in joint development projects which aim towards environmental sustainability. These projects span from working with biodegradable materials, air and water purification and increasing energy efficiency.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

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