The University of Canterbury’s Advanced Energy and Material Lab (AEMSLab) has made leaps and bounds in their research in 2017, receiving MBIE’s Gold status rating for the second year in a row.

  • AEMSLab _NWS_block
    The AEMSLab research group at Canterbury University is developing antimicrobial touch surfaces. From left to right: Sam Talwar (Koti), Catherine Bishop (Materials Science), Jack Heinemann (Biology), Ethan Huang (student), Darryl Lee (Koti), Alibe Wassa (student), Sarah Masters (Chemistry), Minni Gorthy (student), Johann Land (student from collaborator in Grenoble, France), Susan Krumdieck (Mechanical Engineering), Matt Polson (Chemistry), Ola Gardecka (Photocatalytic Materials).

The University of Canterbury’s Advanced Energy and Material Lab (AEMSLab) has made leaps and bounds in their research in 2017, receiving MBIE’s Gold status rating for the second year in a row.

The multidisciplinary UC research group is focused on creating self-cleaning surface coatings that destroy bacteria and viruses as well as pollutants in air and water, simply by being exposed to light. This technology can apply hard-wearing antimicrobial coatings on buttons, knobs, handles and rails in hospitals, which will massively reduce microbe transmission.

The UC researchers say there is great commercial interest in getting antimicrobial coating onto touch-surfaces where incidental transmission occurs. The coating being developed in the MBIE-funded project is a non-toxic photocatalyst ceramic, similar to a ceramic-coated frying pan, but which produces continuous oxygen radicals at the surface – burning up the microbes left there by hands, but also by contact with clothing and other objects, plus airborne pathogens.

One of the project’s leads, Professor Susan Krumdieck of UC’s Mechanical Engineering department, says the need for this technology is more urgent now than ever.

“Hospital-acquired infections affect both vulnerable and relatively healthy people, largely through incidental transmission rather than through any breakdown of hygiene protocols. It is ironic that despite more and more aggressive antibacterial cleaning agents, these infections, particularly from antibiotic resistant organisms (super bugs), are a growing problem in modern hospitals. We discovered a coating material that has shown high lethality to E-coli in the light, and even in the dark.

“Both my father and the father of one of our team have gotten quite sick from infections after minor surgeries – which highlights the importance and immediacy of the work we are doing,” she says.

The successful project, led by Dr Catherine Bishop and Professor Krumdieck, includes researchers in Materials Science, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical and Process Engineering, Biology and Chemistry.

“It is great to get the recognition of our work by receiving the Gold Status from MBIE. Our work has attracted interest from manufacturers in three countries, which is really unique for academic research,” says Professor Krumdieck.

“The technology we use to make the coating has been developed at UC over the past 10 years and could be ready for manufacturers to use in their antimicrobial products by 2020 or sooner. We have worked previously on heat shield coatings in an invited collaboration with the US National Hypersonic Science Center, which was quite exciting. But this coating could have so much benefit for people like my Dad – it is really something to get excited about.”

One of the project’s great successes is the wide range of collaboration.

The research team is working with New Zealand-based Koti Technologies who have patented the material, called Koti BlackTM, and will commercialise the technology and get the antimicrobial coatings into mass manufacture. Koti are also exploring a range of applications for the coating technology, including air and water treatment, food preservation, and industrial catalysis.

The work also involves collaborators at Callaghan Innovations, GNS Science, Lincoln Agritech and top research groups in the UK, France and the USA.

“One really exciting partnership we made last year was with a world-leading research group in photocatalysis at Imperial College London. We made samples for them which demonstrated never before seen efficiency at using solar energy to produce hydrogen. This collaboration has led to requests for more samples, even more research questions and a publication in a top journal for the group,” says Professor Krumdieck.