In nature there are many examples of organisms that enjoy the ability to maintain a perfectly clean aspect even in miry surroundings. The most well-known is the lotus flower, considered a sacred flower and one of the most beautiful of the planet. Its permanent pulchritude is basically due to the fact that particles of dirt hardly stick to the surface of its leaves or petals, thus making them easy to wash with drops of water, which also roll off the leaves surface without adhering to them. Nevertheless, the actual mechanism of cleaning of this flower, symbol of purity, is not at all easy to discern. In fact, in the era of nanotechnology, the analysis of the lotus flower leaf has enabled its chemical and surface complexity to be observed, based on structures organised on micro and nanometric scales. This and other examples from nature act as “bio-inspiration” for the design of new materials, systems and technologies to provide solutions to our present-day needs and enhance our everyday lives.
In this vein, research work is being undertaken such as the European NANOCLEAN project, led by Maier S. Coop. and in which we are cooperating as GAIKER-IK4, providing experts in nanotechnology and the processing of polymeric materials. Five other bodies are involved – companies and research centres – from 4 member countries of the European Union. The goal of this European NANOCLEAN project, initiated in October 2009 and anticipated to last for 3 years, is the design and development of self-cleaning plastic parts for the automobile sector.
To achieve this objective, the research involved five other bodies, companies and research centres, from 4 member countries of the European Union, and bringing together experts from various scientific-technological and industrial fields. The aim is to successfully draw up an innovative and versatile approach based on the combination of techniques on their convergence towards the manufacture of these kinds of plastic parts capable of cleaning themselves.
Nevertheless, while within the framework of this European project the immediate application of this technology to the automobile sector has been taken as one example, one of the most valued aspects of the initiative is precisely its versatility and potentiality, which will enable adjustments to surface properties to be made to plastic, metal and ceramic parts. In this way, it is expected that sectors as diverse as energy, biomedicine, textiles or electrical-electronics, amongst others, will be able to benefit from the new materials and processes that are emerging from this R+D project.
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