Unilever to make self-cleaning surfaces a reality

Unilever and Innova Partnerships have launched a new company, Penrhos Bio, to commercialise a technology that could see self-cleaning surfaces become a reality.

This patented technology is developed from natural chemicals in seaweed biology and can block, or prevent, bacteria and mould on everyday surfaces, and could have numerous applications.

With the a huge amount of resources spent on cleaning products globally, Unilever said that Penrhos Bio could “help to tackle some of the biggest societal and environmental challenges of the 21st century”.

“This technology replicates the natural cleaning process of seaweed; keeping surfaces clean and repelling unwanted invaders from its direct environment,” explained Dr Neil Parry, R&D programme director for Biotechnology and Biosourcing at Unilever

“This biology works in extreme conditions such that it will keep working in dirty waters by blocking the communication between bacteria so that it cannot colonise and build up on healthy surfaces of the plant. 

“This is what we have successfully replicated in the lab, and now we are ready to start trialling this in our Unilever cleaning products.”

The breakthrough came with the introduction of an organic compound called Lactam, which Unilever has been researching for over 10 years.

Over 80% of bacterial infections in people are estimated to involve the formation of biofilms, a collection of microorganisms that grows on many surfaces. 

These microorganisms are formed and developed through bacterial communications systems, but now research has found that, by disrupting these systems, it’s possible to not only prevent them from growing in the first place, but to keep the surfaces cleaner for longer.

Unilever said that the new technology could be used across healthcare, textiles, and marine and could even be used in medical fields where microbial biofilms are commonplace.

Dr Jon Hague, Unilever’s vice president for science and technology, said: “The commercialised use of Lactam presents a significant opportunity for cleaning products globally and could revolutionise the industry. 

“However, what we have found is a unique technology in which its uses are almost limitless.”

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