Nanotechnology – a step too far for surface care?

Francesco Pettenon explains why for those in the surface treatment industry, nanotechnology has lately become a hot topic

N  ANOTECHNOLOGY is a modern science that’s all around us. In our everyday lives, it’s used to make sports equipment stronger and lighter, to bring antibacterial benefits to our clothes and, in sunscreens, to block ultraviolet light without leaving white streaks on the skin.

It’s a subject that’s widely debated – and, for those of us in the surface treatment industry, it has become something of a hot topic of late.

Whenever we introduce our surface protection solutions to new clients, they ask us whether we are using nanotechnologies. Most people believe nanotechnologies are the most efficient technologies, but this assertion remains unproven.

Nanotechnologies are certainly very trendy, but that doesn’t make them more effective at protecting surfaces.

When it comes to surface protection, I believe in technologies that have proven that they are effective and, most importantly, that they are completely safe.

After all, human beings have to handle these products; we are the ones living in the vicinity of treated surfaces in our daily lives.

Nano stems from the ancient Greek for ‘dwarf’. The term nanotechnology refers to the use and control of structures that are 1-100 nanometres in size; these tiny structures are referred to as nanoparticles.

Basically, we’re talking about things that are really, really small.

A nanometer is one billionth of a metre; on average, 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a hair. Some nanoparticles, like volcanic ash, occur naturally. Others occur by accident, for example, during the combustion of fuels. Many occur by design.

Because of their incredibly miniscule size, nanoparticles have triggered a series of debates, especially in terms of their impact on public health and the environment. And, notably, there are some study results that would make you think twice before choosing to use nanotech products.

First, research shows their size enables them to access cells and tissues directly and, therefore, enter the bloodstream and the central nervous system. Engineered nanoparticles are also, generally speaking, chemically coated. This makes them potentially hazardous, especially for living beings.

And, if that isn’t enough to make you doubt the appropriateness of using such particles, their inherently small size makes them not only more mobile, but also more chemically reactive. In turn, nanoparticles are potentially more unstable and more difficult to manipulate than larger units of matter.

In contrast, micrometric particles are 1,000 times bigger than nanoparticles, yet still only half the diameter of a human hair, on average. Though tiny, micrometric particles are not able to enter the tissues of the human body and, as a result, they are safer.

Within the context of floor care, their proportions are consistent with the porosity of materials like stone, porcelain and terracotta. So, they’re able to penetrate a tile’s pores perfectly adequately without endangering the people who are applying the surface protection, or those living next to the surfaces.

In short, micrometric particles are just the right size to protect stones and living beings at the same time. Why risk endangering ourselves by using nanoparticles to protect surfaces, when this can be achieved in a way that is perfectly safe and effective?

Microtechnology is based on established knowledge, and has been documented by researchers over several decades. It’s the science used by many leading companies, including Fila, and has already proven its effectiveness.

Our own system, Fila Micrometrics Technology, allows for the production of extremely stable and safe formulae that can be constantly checked to control their reliability.

This mature technique tests particles not only in terms of their effectiveness, but also in relation to duration and resistance, and the innumerable variables that affect them.

In conclusion, I firmly believe that – as an industry – innovation is the key to our success. That’s why we’re constantly researching new products and approaches to surface care and maintenance.

However, unless an innovation has been proven to be safe for humans and to be non-hazardous, it should not be implemented.

For me, embracing safe science and proven techniques provides the best arena in which to develop and improve surface care products.
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Francesco Pettenon is managing and commercial director, Fila

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