It’s not for nothing that a privileged few are said to be born “with a silver spoon in their mouth.”
Since ancient times, when princes and the powerful first chose to eat with silver cutlery rather than utensils made of base metal, it’s been known that silver has some important bactericidal and fungicidal properties that can reduce the risks from tainted food.
Yet in our more egalitarian age, how could that property be harnessed for wider benefit, without dramatically increasing the cost of packaging or storage?
That’s the mission of Nanox Tecnologia, a company based in the São Carlos tech cluster adjacent to the University of São Carlos (UFSCar) that since 2010 has received seven PIPE grants to develop industrial materials.
The company’s solution was to develop nanostructured microbial products that utilize tiny amounts of silver. And then, by using fine films or coatings, to build these into plastics, ceramics, paints and textiles that are used for packaging or storing food and other perishable items. This product is now commercialised as NanoxClean.
Such products can dramatically extend the shelf-life of food products, so making the supply-chain much easier to navigate – especially in a large tropical country like Brazil, where huge amounts of food are spoiled and wasted.
One example is the lining of plastic milk bottles with Nanox-designed material, which the company says can extend the shelf-life of pasteurized milk from 8 to 16 days. If stored in packaging using the bactericidal material, the company claims that a food product that lasted six months, would then have a shelf life of eight to ten months.
The material can also be applied to any type of plastic packaging for food – from supermarket bags to stiffer plastic, such as margarine tubs – with a very low increase in cost compared with conventional polymers.
Today, Nanox is capable of producing up to 3 tonnes of engineered particles monthly, for use in packaging applications. It has grown significantly since its start-up in 2005, receiving seven rounds of PIPE funding before attracting private venture capital from Novarum. Sales grew from R$1.3 million in 2009 to R$2.3 million in 2010 — prior to the latest Phase 3 PIPE support which enambled the company to increase its production by a factor of 10. The company now has five patent applications in the US and Brazil, and exports to Mexico and China.
You can access the Nanox grant awards in FAPESP’s publicly-available database of PIPE funding here. The key grants were for “scaling and implementing quality control for the production of nanostructured antimicrobials for use in ceramics and plastics.” But in addition funding has been given for research into applying coatings to metal surfaces.
According to Daniel Minozzi, a Nanox director and shareholder: “PIPE helped Nanox on several fronts; firstly in terms of projects and accelerating development of products that gave us market leadership, but also in terms of our institutional DNA. It helped us give Nanox a better profile at the university, so we could find laboratories and consultants, as well as building better research relationships. And it helped us with strategy: I often say that it helped us to point the company in a direction that was much clearer and more specific.”
In fact, Minozzi told an interviewer: “I always say that back in 2004 if it hadn’t been for FAPESP we wouldn’t be where we are today. Perhaps we wouldn’t have survived those first years without their help.”
Gustavo Simões, the Nanox president and shareholder, added: “PIP has helped to increase the capacity of our company. The Phase 3 grant got us to an industrial scale much more quickly than we would otherwise have done. Our current capacity of three tonnes a month allows us to reach several new markets.”
You can read a detailed article about Nanox and its technology by Brazilian journalist Elton Alisson by clicking here.