Anti-microbial coating – a real killer technology
‘A mobile phone screen contains 300 times as many bacteria as a lavatory seat’
Liam Kavanagh, MD, ‘The Irish Times’ (left) presenting the overall Irish Times Innovation award to John Browne and Dr James Kennedy from Kastus at the Irish Times Innovation Awards 2017, at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin. Photograph: Conor McCabe
The 2017 Irish Times Innovation Award winner Kastus has just signed a major contract with Britain’s largest ceramic tile manufacturer for its unique anti-microbial coating product and is about to launch a multi-million euro funding round. The company took the award for its technology which has the capability to destroy 99.9 per cent of E.coli, MRSA and other so-called superbugs on contact.
Originally developed by Crest (the Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology) at the Dublin Institute of Technology, the Kastus product can be used to coat glass and ceramics or added to plastics and paint and is extraordinarily effective against harmful bacteria.
The product works by reacting with natural light to produce electrically charged radicals which in turn make contact with bacteria, killing them instantly, according to James Kennedy, director of innovation and operations with Kastus.
“These negatively and positively charged radicals react with water in the air and are attracted to bacteria,” he explains. “Our unique selling point is that the coating works with natural light. It doesn’t require ultra-violet light so works indoors.”
No harmful chemicals are used either. “There is no leeching with chemicals,” adds chief executive John Browne. “Our product doesn’t run out or stop working after a period of time. The nature of leeching is that the active ingredient gets used up. Our coating keeps on working.”
The product was originally developed 10 years ago, Browne notes. “I was introduced to the team at Crest by Enterprise Ireland to look at commercialising the intellectual property (IP). That was the start of a long and arduous journey to take it from idea to production. We formed the company four years ago and decided to go for an aggressive global IP strategy. We now have patents granted for key markets worldwide.”
Growth has been ramped up over the past year. “We closed a venture capital round at the end of 2016 and have now grown our R&D team to six,” says Browne. “We are also growing our business development team and we should be up to 20 or 30 employees by the end of this year. We recently closed a significant deal with British Ceramic Tiles, the largest tile manufacturer in the UK, and we are looking at other industries such as aerospace, smartphones, and consumer electronics. For the present we are very focused on the global ceramics market.”
The Kastus technology is particularly attractive to the ceramics industry due to its other properties. “It is not just anti-microbial, it is very hard-wearing, scratch resistant, easy to clean and very durable,” says Browne. “It also has the potential to reduce the number of rejects coming off the production line. When our product is sprayed on before the tiles go into the kiln it can fill in small imperfections and smoothen the surface. When you’re producing 100 million square metres of tiles every year, that can be a very attractive benefit.”
The anti-microbial benefits should not be understated, however. “A mobile phone screen contains 300 times as many bacteria as a lavatory seat,” Browne continues. “Using our product on a mobile phone screen is just one example of the protection it can offer.”
Others include floors and walls in hospitals and food preparation areas, as well as glass shelving in fridges and microwaves.
Another interesting application is exterior glass. “Our product makes it very durable and it virtually cleans itself,” Browne explains. “We are working with two major glass manufacturers at the moment and they have told us that we have developed something that they were trying to come up with for years.”
Applications are not limited to glass and ceramics. “We are not a one-trick pony,” says Kennedy. “We have developed a coating which doesn’t require high temperatures and we are working with a number of companies in areas like aerospace and high-end engineering on advanced trials at present.”
A future application could be use as a final coating additive in 3D printing processes. “I have a lot of experience in 3D printing and we see a lot of opportunities there,” says Kennedy.
With the company about to launch a major funding round, Browne says that the Irish Times Innovation Award win has been of real benefit. “The key benefit is credibility,” he says. “We had messages of congratulations from potential customers in places like the UK and Saudi Arabia on the night of the awards. They had seen it on twitter. We have a two pronged approach for the future – we will continue to focus on the core product for glass and ceramics while developing new applications in other areas. The beauty of our product is that once a customer starts using it they keep on using it, we don’t have to go back and sell it again every year.”