Inspired by the lotus leaf, a European research team has created the first self-cleaning metals using new photonics technology.
The self-cleaning metals are the first fluid-repellent, antibacterial metal surface in the world. The defence mechanisms found in the lotus leaf plant gave the researchers the idea for the self-cleaning metals.
The TresClean project uses high-power laser cutting devices to create spikes and ridges in sheet metal. This causes liquids to bounce off, mimicking the surface of the Lotus leaf. The roughened surface creates miniature air pockets that minimise the contact area between the surface and a liquid, almost like standing on a bed of needles.
The similarities between the Lotus leaf and the metal surface
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%. We are looking at an anti-bacterial metal”.
Video: Lotus leaf helps scientists develop first self-cleaning metals from Matter PR on Vimeo.
The applications of self-cleaning metals
Initially, TresClean is aiming the product at the food industry, for self-cleaning machine parts. TresClean hopes to make a significant impact on increasing productivity and reducing costs in factories which process biological food products such as milk, tomato sauce, and yoghurt.
In the future, Romoli sees long-term possibilities for other sectors. The metal surface will bring the team a step closer to self-cleaning saucepans, toilets, and dishwashers. Romoli said: “It is possible that any use of metal that needs to avoid the formation of bacteria will benefit from the TresClean product, such as medical cutting tools, sterile surfaces, dishwashers, or even saucepans”.