New laser system to create self-cleaning metal

A new laser system is being developed by a European photonics consortium to create self-cleaning metal with grease-repellent, antibacterial properties.

Teaming up with appliance company Bosch, the consortium hopes to see their technology create fluid-repellent surfaces inside domestic items such as dishwashers and refrigerators.

The metal will be treated by the high-powered laser system named LAMpAS (short for high throughput Laser structuring with Multiscale Periodic feature sizes for Advanced Surface Functionalities). This textures the metal with microscopic ‘spikes’ or ‘ridges’ that act like a bed of nails and prevent dirt or liquids from attaching themselves, allowing fridge or oven doors to remain clean for longer without the use of detergents or heat.

Said to create an ‘amphiphobic’ surface similar to the mechanisms found in nature like Lotus leaves or springtails’ skin, the system will enable water and oil to simply ‘roll off’ and reduce the build-up of bacteria, scientists said.

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According to the team, the laser-structuring technique currently being carried out on metal could also work with other materials like plastic and glass. Scientists described it as a safer and more eco-friendly alternative to using surface coatings such as Teflon, which can suffer from drawbacks if the covering breaks.

“We are targeting related use cases: medical surfaces in hospitals, like stainless steel antibacterial surfaces; packaging machines in the pharma industry that need to be disinfected; machines in the food processing sector that need to be continually cleaned and where hygiene is paramount,” said LAMpAS project coordinator Prof. Dr Andrés Fabian Lasagni.

Sheet metal has previously been textured to repel water and bacteria, but preventing fingerprints remains a novel approach for laser-treated metal. The Laser Technology Leader in the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) Dr Francesca Moglia explained that their work will allow surfaces to obtain ‘anti-fingerprint characteristics’, enabling them to stay shiny.

“Our laser system will allow us to treat more than one square metre of sheet metal per minute covering a potentially growing market that could reach nine-digit revenues pr year in the home-appliance sector alone,” added Lasagni. “With our innovative Direct Laser Interference Patterning (DLIP) – Polygon Scanner head we will be able to treat metal with a 1.5kW novel ps-laser source, with scanning speeds over 100m/s.”

Coordinated in Germany by the Technical University Dresden, the LAMpAS consortium has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programmes and includes members from Belgium, Germany, France and Spain.