Over recent decades, the number of medicines we can use against harmful bacteria has been falling. At the same time, other disease-causing organisms such as viruses, fungi and parasites have been developing drug resistance faster than we can make new ones and the illnesses they cause are becoming more and more difficult to treat.

One approach to combat the spread of these organisms is to turn the surfaces the pathogens use to spread into part of our defences against them by developing self-cleaning and pathogen killing surfaces. The surfaces we touch in our daily routine can be a means of direct transmission. It is thought that virus that causes Covid-19 – Sars-CoV-2 – can live on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days and some bacteria can survive for several months on inanimate surfaces. This underlines the importance of continually disinfecting and cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched or looking for technologies to impart anti-microbial properties to surfaces. 

Prior to TresClean the high-volume production of laser textured antibacterial steel or plastic surfaces was not possible. The new high-power laser and materials process technology developed by TresClean was a major step towards realising such products. Using this technology, the project examined the cleanability and antibacterial properties of surfaces following treatment, with many different surface treatments tested and new insights into the generation of hydrophobic properties uncovered.  

Laboratory testing of the identified surface treatments led to promising results in terms of demonstrating textured metal surfaces with improved cleanability and antimicrobial properties. Further work to explore the use of these materials in operational environments is necessary for the technology to reach the full potential of the approach. Indeed, the range of surface texturing technologies developed by the project presents a real opportunity for further work with different materials such as copper or titanium which may yet enable progress towards self-cleaning and antimicrobial surfaces without the need for chemical coatings. 

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The TresClean project is an initiative of the Photonics Public Private Partnership and has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 687613