Silver Nanoparticles

KTH chemistry researcher Josefin Illergård (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

by Alex Francis

For years now, silver nanoparticles have been embraced for their antibacterial properties and used in the making of a number of products, but increased concern for the effect that they could have on the environment has pushed researches to come up with an alternative.

The problem stems from the idea that the tiny particles, which are between 1 and 100 nanometers in size, are being released from the antimicrobial, silver-containing materials down the drain and into the environment with every rinse and wash. And as the amount of silver nanoparticles released adds up, the prolonged environmental exposure could aid bacteria in developing a resistance to their antibacterial effects.

A Solution is on the Horizon

Scientists at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden announced last month that they have developed a new kind of antimicrobial material that is not at risk of desensitizing, so to speak, the bacteria that it targets. The material combines cellulose fibers with an antibacterial polymer, forming a bond strong enough to stand up to repeated washings.

In order to work as an antimicrobial, the new material must come in direct contact with bacteria. But as the positively charged polymer actually attracts negatively charged bacteria, that should not be a source of problems.

The scientists intend to continue their research and further develop the material. As it is now, non-toxic nitrogen oxides remain when it is burned, but the goal is to make it completely recyclable. The lead scientist on the project believes that their antimicrobial material could be used in cleaning clothes, hospital sanitation, or even water filtration.

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