UCD researchers develop cheap, green biofilm removal technique

4 Nov 2015

UCD researchers have just discovered a new, cost-effective and environmental friendly way to clean up unwanted biofilms.

The team of bioprocess engineering researchers basically created a brush of sorts, by coupling the gentle mechanical abrasion of nano-particles with the natural chemical action of enzymes.

This way these enzyme-coated nanoparticles could gently brush and clean biofilm grown on plastic surfaces.

Biofilms are structures of micro-organisms that strongly adhere to and cover surfaces, which are in contact with water, in a slimy layer.

The costs of standard removal of biofilms – which results in biofouling – comes in many streams, economic in terms of cost both during the cleaning and afterwards through the removal of waste, as well as environmental.

It is the green aspect of this latest discovery, therefore, that appeals to UCD’s Dr Jessica Amadio, who started working on this study in 2013.

“Our first and foremost concern was to address the use of harsh chemicals to remove biofilms,” she said.

“It has been extremely rewarding to work on a study which has developed green solutions to address the issue of industrial scale biofilms. Our next step is to seek funding to enable us to bring our technology closer to the market.”

In some cases biofouling impedes heat transfer in heat exchangers, increases pressure drop in water circuits, increases pumping energy requirements as well as causing material deterioration through microbial-induced corrosion.

Lead author on the study, UCD Professor Eoin Casey, said: “The results of our study demonstrate that enzyme-functionalised nano-beads may potentially pave the way for the identification of a new family of non-corrosive and environmentally-friendly anti-biofilm and anti-fouling agents.

“Our study opens up a promising approach for the synthesis of a wide range of similar derivatives bearing similar anti-bacterial activity, in which their ease of recovery, coupled with the reuseable properties would enable the more cost effective use of enzyme-based cleaning operations in industry.”

Cleaning image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic