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Synergy talks: empowering collaborations with MIRIA & NANOBLOC projects

The spring blossoms in May, flourishing in possibilities for RELIANCE synergy activities as well. As an important tool to broaden the impact of collaborative EU projects, they remain key enablers for knowledge exchange and capacity-building, fostering opportunities for enlarging their reach.

RELIANCE and sister project MIRIA recently held a dedicated meeting to discuss more closely potential cooperation. MIRIA focuses on developing a wide range of antimicrobial nanocoatings for use in hospitals and other settings where cross-contamination and contagion risks are significantly high. The coatings they develop will be validated in a semi-real environment of an operating theater, very closely resembling the ones in hospitals. In addition to the differences in the coating deposition techniques applied in the projects, MIRIA’s coatings are primarily based on the use of nanopowders, with graphene being in the limelight. Besides having Millidyne as a common partner, another point of convergence relies on the employment of sol-gel coating formulations on various substrates, such as textiles, polymers, glass, and metals, while using same antiviral material like the Influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2.

Some actions deliberated upon by the projects’ teams were joint presentations in workshops and webinars, working together in the area of socio-economic impact analysis of the innovative coatings, testing and validation of these new technologies, comparing the antiviral and antimicrobial aspects and the efficiency of the different coatings.

Just few days earlier, RELIANCE and NANOBLOC coordination and Communication-Dissemination teams conducted a productive introductory discussion to explore the potential cooperation. Both projects focus on designing and developing high-performance, sustainable nanocoatings with enhanced antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties for various industrial applications. The teams discussed the differences in their coating deposition technologies too.

They identified high potential for collaborating, such as producing dissemination materials that highlight the variations in antimicrobial nanocoatings techniques and their impact on aging, durability, ecotoxicity, and microbial response efficiency. Another collaborative activity could involve publishing of co-authored recommendations for new standards in antimicrobial coatings characterization, tailored to specific applications.

By combining efforts, RELIANCE, MIRIA, and NANOBLOC can jointly explore diverse possibilities, enhancing the projects’ impact and working together to promote safer and healthier surfaces through innovative nanocoating technologies in the EU.

Stay tuned for more updates on our collaborative journey!

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RELIANCE team from the University of Rome Tor Vergata presented 2 posters at the 5th CBRNE Research and Innovation Conference

The 5th edition of the International Conference “CBRNE Research and Innovation” was held at the “Palais de la Musique et des Congrès” in Strasbourg, France, March 19- 21, 2024. The event focused on addressing challenges related to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials and agents (CBRNE).

The conference covered various aspects including detection, identification, protection, decontamination, medical countermeasures, and risks and crisis management. Attendees, among whom researchers, responders and industry professionals, gathered to discuss and provide adapted responses to these critical challenges. The conference featured scientific updates, responders’ feedback, workshops, and demonstrations of innovative materials and technologies. Both civilian and military personnel contributed to an atmosphere of innovation and collaboration.

During the poster sessions, RELIANCE was showcased with 2 presentations from the University of Rome tor Vergata. Elisa Recchia presented a poster titled “Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobial Agents for Biological Threats”. This topic was part of RELIANCE project activities, focused on the design and development of smart response self-disinfectant antimicrobial nanocoatings based on a new range of smart antimicrobial nanoparticles modified with bio-based bioactive compounds – antimicrobial peptides and essential oils.

Luca Fiore also presented a poster, titled: “Paper-based device for monitoring the effectiveness of environmentally friendly antimicrobial coating”, which demonstrated the ability to detect essential oils on the surface using a paper-based device, with the advantage of simplicity, sustainability, and providing broad and promising applications for detection of these compounds.

The conference provided a platform for sharing insights, fostering collaboration, and advancing research in the field of CBRNE agents.

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Advancing Antimicrobial Nanocoating Technologies Community Day

Advancing Antimicrobial Nanocoating Technologies Community Day is a key event during the MaterialsWeek 2024!  Organized by the Horizon Europe projects  NOVA, RELIANCE, STOP, and SUSAAN, it is dedicated to the advancement of antimicrobial coating technologies.  An excellent networking opportunity, aiming to bridge diverse scientific communities, from scientists to industry leaders, in our collective fight against the transmission of disease through surfaces.
 

Join us on June 17th in Limassol, Cyprus as we explore the latest in antimicrobial coating technologies, fostering a safer future!

Conference Programme

Conference Registration

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The School of Engineering and Architecture participated in the MPG Academy Workshop on Functional Coatings

RELIANCE project partners from The School of Engineering and Architecture (HEIA-FR) participated in the MPG Academy Workshop on Functional Coatings, organized by Molecular Plasma Group in Leuven, Belgium, on February 22 and 23, 2024.

Several leading-edge researchers presented their findings in an exciting program, in which the presenters shared their insights and expertise on utilizing Molecular Plasma Group’s cutting-edge plasma technology in their research endeavors. The presentations provided valuable information and served as a source of knowledge and inspiration for all attendees.

Among the participants representing universities, Research, and Technology Organizations (RTOs) who got actively involved in thought-provoking discussions and enthusiastic engagement transformed this event into a vibrant opportunity for collaboration and knowledge exchange.

The attendees’ expertise and valuable contributions played a pivotal role in making this workshop an exceptional success, with an impressive turnout of approximately 50 participants and an engaging lineup of 13 high-quality presentations.

The program included the following presentations:

  • Plenary lecture – Michael R. Wertheimer, Polytechnique Montreal: Industrialized Plasma Processing: A Personal Perspective
  • Fernando Alba Elias, Universidad de la Rioja: Applications of atmospheric cold plasma in the Food and Medical industry.
  • Roberto Quintana, LIST: Atmospheric plasma deposition processes engineering for functional coatings.
  • Navid Mostofi Sarkari, KUL-MTM: Application of MPG Aerosol-assisted atmospheric pressure plasma polymerization technology for developing ice phobic surfaces.
  • Tijs Dekoster, IMEC: Aerosol assisted plasma deposition from a physicochemical point of view.
  • Stijn Van Vrekhem, Centexbel: Plasma technology for the textile and plastics industry.
  • Guillaume Nonglaton, CEA-LETI: Advancing Micro and Nanotechnologies for Healthcare: CEA-Leti’s Cutting-Edge Surface Functionalization Platform.  
  • Camilo Rendon Piedrahita, LIST: Superhydrophobic coatings deposited using atmospheric pressure plasma.
  • Arunjunai Raj Mahendran, Wood Kplus: Enhancing the Properties of sustainable materials through Plasma Deposition: Development and Applications.
  • Lieze Dankers, KUL-MeBioS: Carboxylic acid linker-layer created with atmospheric cold plasma technology for standardized and improved biomolecule immobilization on polymer surfaces.
  • Elena Contreras Garcia, CTCR: Adhesion improvement of footwear through plasma technology.
  • Hatice Ferda Özgüzar, KUL-MTM: Aerosol-assisted atmospheric pressure plasma polymerization to create thiol-rich coatings on titanium implants using 3-(mercaptopropyl) trimethoxysilane.
  • Dirk Vangeneugden, VITO: Faster battery charging thanks to plasma discharge.

We are united in the goal of breaking new ground in the realm of functional coatings, paving the way for state-of-the-art innovations that transcend specific industries.

More moments of exchange during the workshop below.

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Paper-based device for surface essential oils monitoring

Essential oils have been employed for centuries in various cultures for their therapeutic properties. Beyond their delightful fragrances, essential oils are gaining increasing recognition for their potent antimicrobial activity. These volatile and concentrated extracts derived from plants possess a remarkable ability to combat a wide array of harmful microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and even some parasites. The exploration of essential oils as natural alternatives to synthetic antimicrobial agents has sparked significant interest in recent years, fuelled by the growing awareness of the limitations and potential risks associated with conventional antibiotics and disinfectants. Among the wide variety of essential oils available, thymol, menthol, eugenol, and carvacrol stand out for their remarkable potency in terms of antimicrobial properties. In this comprehensive exploration of essential oils for antimicrobial activity, RELIANCE is currently in progress, merging the potential of nanomaterials with essential oils to develop a highly promising antimicrobial surface. Given that one method depends on the gradual release of essential oils from loaded nanoparticles, monitoring the amount of essential oils present on the surface in real-time can serve as a valuable, fast analytical approach. In this context, it has recently been demonstrated that the paper can be used as support for the development of electrochemical devices useful for this purpose.

Paper-based sensors

Paper-based electrochemical (bio)sensors have emerged as highly attractive analytical devices for their superior sustainable features, such as avoiding the use of polyester as support and the reduction of waste, being incinerated after use. However, paper-based electrochemical (bio)sensors have recently demonstrated further advantages, including the simple combination with vertical microfluidics and their use as a reservoir to deliver smart electrochemical (bio)sensors that are able to i) contain the reagents, ii) preconcentrate the target analyte, and iii) synthesize the nanomaterials inside the paper network. Furthermore, these devices have shown ability to overcome the limitations of the other printed electrochemical sensors in the measurement of entirely liquid samples by detecting the target analyte in the aerosol phase or solid sample, without the additional sampling system. Herein, we developed in RELIANCE a paper-based device for the detection of essential oils on the surface, as a smart tool to evaluate the availability of these compounds on the functionalized surface.

Preparation of paper-based sensor

Filter paper-based screen-printed electrodes were home-produced. Filter paper sheets were firstly modified with an ad hoc designed wax pattern in order to delimitate the hydrophilic area in which liquid samples were dropped, avoiding them to reach the electrical contacts through capillary permeation. The wax pattern was printed onto filter paper by means of a special printer and treated at 100 °C for 1 min in order to allow the wax to homogeneously permeate through the paper network. Then, conductive inks were used to print a three-electrode system onto wax-modified filter paper sheets. The working and counter-electrodes were obtained using a graphite-based ink and the pseudo-reference electrode was printed using Ag/AgCl-based ink (Fig. 1).

Electrochemical detection of essential oils

Different pulse voltammetry was selected for essential oils detection by connecting the paper-based sensor to a portable potentiostat connected to a laptop to easily manage the data. The modification of the working electrode surface with nanomaterial dispersion in order to improve the analytical performance of the sensor was demonstrated to be critical for the sensitive detection of essential oils. The electrochemical measurements were performed by sampling the biological compounds putting the paper strip in contact with the site wetted by oils. The calibration curves were carried out by analyzing different solutions of thymol, eugenol, and carvacrol in the concentration range comprised between 2-16 ppm.

Conclusion

The results obtained have demonstrated the ability to detect essential oils such as thymol, eugenol, and carvacrol on the surface using a paper-based device. This method offers the advantage of simplicity, sustainability and provides broad and promising applications for the detection of these substances.

Contributor: University of Rome Tor Vergata

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RELIANCE partners joined the IAM4EU online info session on the proposed EU Partnership under Horizon Europe

RELIANCE project partners were excited to attend the info session on the proposed EU partnership under Horizon Europe programme “Innovative Advanced Materials for Europe” (IAM4EU)

Briefly, the agenda was focused on familiarization with the newly proposed public-private partnership’s ambition, its suggested implementation and first outline of the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA), based on the input from all relevant stakeholders’ communities.

The session defined advanced materials as intentionally designed materials possessing new or enhanced properties and targeted structural features to achieve specific or improved functional performance. In the context of policy making, they are seen as key enablers and innovator drivers for the Green Deal and Digital Transition due to an increasing customer demand for circular, safe and sustainable products.

The partnership ambition was framed within strengthening the EU’s resilience and strategic autonomy through accelerating advanced materials research and technology development, scaling up their innovation and manufacturing capacity as well as stepping up their industrial uptake.

The meeting evolved with defining a common vision for relevant stakeholders in the field, namely, to ensure EU industrial leadership for advanced materials through mobilising R&I investments at all levels and supporting innovative EU companies to improve their competitiveness. It further elaborated on 5 pillar actions outlined in the draft strategy: European R&I, Lab to Fab, Capital Investment and Finance, Production and Use, and Governance.

Lastly, the attendees were introduced to the guiding principles of IAM4EU partnership:

  • Cover all the segments of the materials value chain, as well as technologies and infrastructures (making use of, supporting and/or developing) enabling an accelerated design, development and uptake of IAMs.
  • Support the full IAMs innovation cycle (from basic research to innovation uptake)
  • Recognize the key enabling role of all types of IAMs.
  • As a co-programmed partnership with industry, to ensure that research investments meet industrial needs and boost uptake into marketable products.

 Source: www.ami2030.eu

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From labscale to upscale

The goal of RELIANCE project is to design and develop smart response self-disinfectant antimicrobial nanocoatings based on a new range of antimicrobial nanoparticles. The framework, on which the actual functionalities that bring out the antimicrobial effects are being built, comprises of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (SMIN). The silica particles are obtained via modification of the well-established Stöber process, using a soft-template method. Although the process to prepare these particles is relatively simple per se, the upscale of chemical processes or reactions using larger quantities of reactants rarely goes smoothly giving comparable results to laboratory scale. The upscale of mesoporous silica nanoparticles is no exception. Furthermore, with reference to the myriad of scientific articles dealing with the silica nanoparticle synthesis, it is evident that even minute changes in some parameter may cause a significant effect on the result. Therefore, to obtain conditions that are robust enough to enable the synthesis in a reproducible manner, would be of paramount importance from the upscaling point of view.

In RELIANCE, SMIN are prepared in batch processes. Unfortunately, there is no real practical way to monitor the progress of the reaction during the synthesis itself and to do adjustments as necessary to steer the reaction into the wanted direction. Therefore, the evaluation of the outcome will be done only after the process is completed and the product isolated and purified. The method of “trial and error” is both laborious and time consuming.

One of the key targets in RELIANCE is to produce particles with defined particle size distribution. When going to ever smaller particle sizes (i.e. nanoparticles), the task becomes more challenging. Multiple experiments have been carried out do date, to close the gap between the results obtained at lab-scale and the initial upscaled trials. The figure below shows a scanning electron microscope image of the product obtained in very recent upscaled experiment (50x reactant amounts compared to labscale). The particle size distribution measured from the image, and further supported by an independent laser diffraction analysis, are in agreement of a result very close to the targeted values. In the near future, the quest will focus on fine tuning of the current experimental parameters and set-up to still improve the particle size distribution.

When speaking about true colloidal solutions where the particles (with their size characterised in the nanometer scale, ≈ 100 nm and below) are separate and dispersed throughout the media, their isolation from the reaction mixture is not possible by simple filtration techniques and more advanced methods need to be utilised, like for example centrifugation. Preparing SMIN in quantities as set up by RELIANCE would require upscaling to volumes of tens of liters and that would no longer be viable to be processed by centrifugation. By changing the synthesis parameters, it has been observed that the formed particles start to assemble into larger aggregated structures. Formation of aggregates has a huge effect on the following step: when forming larger sized aggregates, simple vacuum or pressure filtration of the particles is again possible, therefore simplifying the work-up remarkably.

Although the aggregation is beneficial to ease the product isolation process, there is a downside. For the final coatings, particles need to be separated from each other to give well-dispersed and homogenous coating solutions. The experiments done so far demonstrate that using suitable techniques together with possible processing aids can lead to obtaining good dispersions of the particles.

Contributor: MILLIDYNE

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RELIANCE reporting first results at Review Meeting

The last two months have been pretty hectic for RELIANCE partners as we have been working hard summing up and organizing the first 18-month period of the project, while getting ready to report first results and achievements to the project monitoring experts of the European Commission.

The 1st Review Meeting we held in February 2024. It went in a cooperative and friendly spirit of an open dialogue, sharing consortium impressive progress on the development of innovative, high performance antimicrobial coatings. The novel copper silica mesoporous nanoparticles (Cu-SMIN) represent a genuine topic of interest due to the new class of biocidal additives with a synergistic mode of action and low impact on the environment. The efforts so far have been focused on obtaining the Cu-SMIN structure and the initial optimization of the synthesis conditions for the nanoparticles. Various methods for incorporating copper on the SMIN particles are being explored and the activities on nanoparticles functionalization with essential oils is in progress.  With regard to the second family of additives, the AMP-functionalized Cu-SMIN for enhanced contact killing action, several antimicrobial peptides have been extracted from keratin, with proved antiviral and antibacterial activity.

With regard to the green synthesis of sustainable binder formulations for the nanocoatings, partners were eager to share that the project is on track with the development of fluorine-free hybrid (inorganic-organic) sol-gel based coatings that are considered for use with home appliances. The initial expectations regarding easy-to-clean performance combined with mechanical resistance, good aesthetic appearance and resistance to cleaning agents was upgraded in the course of the project, with oleophobicity being additionally investigated.  Another big challenge that we undertook from the beginning was to formulate liquid with lowest possible content of volatile organic solvent.

The nanostructuration techniques have been optimized, with certain methods achieving excellent results and others needing more work. Partners have been developing a process of fabrics pretreatment with hydrogels based on natural components, free of persistent chemicals.

Throughout the lifespan of RELIANCE, sustainability is at the core in all phases of the value chain. Some of our forthcoming activities comprise the full life cycle assessment of selected bioactives and nanocoatings, including “cradle to cradle” environmental footprint and economic validation of the novel developments, offering the possibility to explore additional market applications. The toxicity of novel mesoporous nanoparticles and nanocoatings are to be addressed with an eco- and cyto-toxicological regulatory evaluation which will be completed with in-vivo tests.

RELIANCE consortium continues its research and creative work towards achieving project’s ambitious objectives, pleased with the positive evaluation of the Commission and taking into account its recommendations. Stay tuned and connect with us on social media for breakthrough news and more insights on our path from the lab to the demo use cases.


Pathogens contributing to spread of infections can cause considerable cost in human life and economic damage. It is estimated that only antimicrobial resistance infections are responsible for 110,000 deaths and 1.5 billion EUR per year in healthcare costs and productivity losses.

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RELIANCE partners gathering for the 6th management meeting in ROME, ITALY

The saying “All roads lead to Rome” had certainly held true for RELIANCE partners who gathered last week in the ancient city spread on seven hills, for their 6th management meeting.

The event hosted by the University of Rome Tor Vergata and Policlinico Militare di Roma comprised a busy schedule, dense with presentations on work progress, challenges encountered on the way and effective solutions for alleviating potential repercussions on follow on activities of interconnected packages.

The project has entered its mid phase, expected to deliver more than 10 deliverables by the end of May, and reach two more milestones, deriving from the completion of the development and up-scaling of the copper doped silica mesoporous nanoparticles, their antimicrobial functionalization and the development of the nanoparticles’ dispersion matrix as well as the development and upscaling of the organic coating formulations.

Along with that, the consortium is preparing for its first Review Meeting in February, to report on results and key achievements. Opportunities to continue coordinating next steps were not missed even during coffee and lunch breaks while enjoying the delicious Italian cuisine and flavorful espresso.

Excited with the impressive research progress it had scored so far, the group was happy to delve into an insightful tour of Rome and learn more about the history of the Colosseum and the gladiator battles, Basilica of San Clemente, Basilica di San Giovanni, the Vatican and so much more. Despite the drizzle, it was a beautiful evening, dissolving into a cozy dinner embraced with the fragrance of homemade bread and pasta, lively chatter, laughter and optimism for what’s next. 

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Advancing Safety and Sustainability: RELIANCE brings to market innovative antimicrobial and antiviral coatings for everyday life products and applications

Home appliances are commonly used in our daily life, with their surfaces being exposed various sources of virus and microbes, and human bodies. The research work in RELIANCE project addresses the above by bringing to the European consumers a set of innovative anti-microbial and antiviral coatings for everyday life products and applications.

While there are high expectations for some surfaces, such as the glass shelves of refrigerators, to be capable of suppressing bacteria or virus proliferation, the same applies to the technologies behind these surfaces’ functionalities. The novel biobased and self-disinfectant compounds RELIANCE develops will be added to the new nanocoatings, triggering a contact-killing action against bacteria and viruses. However, the matrix of the coating in which these newly designed active ingredients will be embedded represents an exciting challenge in itself. Through chemical design and surface nano- structuration, RELIANCE aims at intrinsically offering virus and microbe-repelling coatings, with a global antimicrobial action.

In the recent years, a large amount of omniphobic and repellent coatings, both inorganic and organic, were developed that were based on fluorine compounds. At the same time, European citizens are becoming increasingly concerned with health and environmental issues due to persistent chemicals waste and regulations expected to impose further restrictions on the use of controversial chemicals, and even mandate their overall replacement. Some fluorine-based chemicals are on the list.

All of the above calls for a new, technically ambitious approach, reflected in RELIANCE work package three, led by partner POLYRISE SAS. Their team focuses on the design and development of hybrid nanocoatings. The work activities so far have led to the obtaining of the first sol-gel-based hybrid inorganic-organic coatings exhibiting both pronounced hydrophobic features and dynamic oleophobicity. In other words, oily liquid or aqueous-based dirt-stain solutions will roll off on such coated surfaces without wetting and soiling them, meaning that the new hybrid coatings will achieve these characteristics without using fluorine-based compounds.

To impart a kind of omniphobicity, hybrid coatings based on functionalized nanosilica and low surface energy sol-gel and siloxane networks were developed, to prepare the coatings of desired transparency for application on substrates such as glass or stainless steel, commonly used in home appliances. The transparency and good aesthetics are assessed by Haze Measurement for clarity of the coated substrate, the mechanical resistance is assessed by hardness, while hydro- and oleophobicity are assessed by both Water or Hexadecane Contact Angle. Along with liquid repellency, these are the specifications for such coatings and formulations, enabling the achievement of the following characteristics when applied on glass substrates:

PropertyCharacteristicsValues
TransparencyTransparency0,3 %
Mechanical resistanceHardness ISO 
Easy-to-cleanWater Contact Angle98°
Hexadecane Contact Angle38°

Oleophobicity can also be demonstrated through the behaviour of an olive oil droplet on the coated surface that effortlessly rolls off glass, without wetting it.

The picture below shows glass-coated substrates obtained by a dip-coating process followed by a thermal curing process at a moderate temperature of 160°C.

As an objective of the project, the nano structuration of the coated surface could also be observed and determined with Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), displayed in the image below:

To conclude, the development of the coatings must also achieve sustainable development targets. In addition to no fluorine compound use, the new hybrid coatings will be mostly based on aqueous composition while addressing the need for being compatible with spray application deposition.  These are the next challenges we are going to tackle in RELIANCE.

Stay tuned!