Floor tiles that kill pathogens feature at EU innovation summit

5 Dec 2011

(From left) Dr Brendan Duffy and Dr Suresh Pillai, researchers at CREST DIT who used Enterprise Ireland funding to create antimicrobial coatings that are used by VitrA Ireland in the manufacture of ceramic tiles

Floor tiles created in Ireland that kill MRSA, E. coli and other disease-causing pathogens is being showcased at the first-ever, two-day European Innovation Convention taking place in Brussels today and tomorrow.

The light-activated antibacterial surface coating has been developed by a team at the Centre for Research in Engineering Surface Technology (CREST) at Dublin Institute of Technology along with ceramic manufacturer VitrA Ireland. Enterprise Ireland has also given the project funding.

The only Irish technology featuring in Brussels this week is one of 50 star projects selected from more than 450 entries to participate in the EU innovation event.

Photocatalytic technology

The Irish exhibit will showcase tiles manufactured by VitrA Ireland with an antibacterial coating that kills pathogens when exposed to light.  

The photocatalytic technology was originally developed by a research team at DIT using funding from Enterprise Ireland. The technology was converted from a research project into a commercial product when Robert Hickson, MD of VitrA Ireland, decided to develop the photocatalytic technology for use on ceramics.

Speaking today, the CREST team said it overcame the challenges of using indoor light to activate the coating, ensuring the coating could be fired in the kiln and maintain its sterilising properties.  

The coating works by reacting to light to generate tiny molecular species called free radicals, which blitz micro-organisms at the surface.

To make it work, the semiconductor titanium dioxide has been engineered to be activated by indoor light, which is less expensive and more practical than using UV light, explained Dr Suresh Pillai, senior R&D manager at CREST today.

Turkish company VitrA, whose Irish base is in Arklow, Co Wicklow, is now licensing the technology from DIT on an exclusive basis for use on its products worldwide.

Tests carried out by DIT and by Airmid Health Group in Dublin found the technology is 99.99pc efficient at killing the hospital ‘superbug’ MRSA, E. coli and the fungus that causes athlete’s foot.

Multiple applications for industry

“We believe it will also be active against other bacteria and micro-organisms,” said Dr Suresh Pillai, senior R&D manager, CREST.  He said the technology could have applications in the healthcare setting, swimming pools, schools and gyms.

Dr Martin Lyes, divisional manager, Research and Innovation, Enterprise Ireland, spoke today about how this partnership between VitrA Ireland and the research team at CREST DIT shows how EU funding for networking in science, bringing together companies, research centres and universities, will enhance Europe’s innovation potential, as well as creating jobs.
Prominent speakers at the Innovation Convention 2011 include Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google; Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, Microsoft; Ben Verwaayen, CEO, Alcatel-Lucent; Andrew Witty, CEO, GlaxoSmithKline; Dr Margaret Chan, director-general, World Health Organization; Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, author and former professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University; and Prof Andre Geim, physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, 2010.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic