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The integration of silver into all kinds of products continues to grow, despite the EPA's announced intent to regulate products that advertise the use of silver nanoparticles to kill germs. With no end in sight to this growth, it shouldn't come as a surprise that more competition is starting to emerge.
April 1st, 2007
An Update on Silver Nanoparticles
About a year ago I first noticed a major increase in the use of silver as an antimicrobial in all sorts of products. What's happened in the twelve months since has been pretty interesting—the most notable news being the EPA's announcement that products which promote the use of silver nanoparticles to kill germs must be registered. On the surface, it looked like that might derail a high-growth market segment; but in fact, it appears to have had little effect. Why?
The primary reason is that two companies really dominate this sector at the moment, and neither use silver nanoparticles. Perhaps more importantly, both of these technologies are already registered with the EPA, and in some cases, have FDA approval as well. As a result, if you buy clothing that has an antimicrobial effect, more likely than not, it's using a silver-coated thread from Noble Fiber Technologies. For things like appliances, building materials, and consumer electronics that have a silver-infused coating, it's probably based on AgION's zeolites, which are micro-scale.
But that's not to say that silver nanoparticles aren't being used—they certainly are. In terms of integration into consumer products, a leader right now is NanoHorizons, who began promoting their SmartSilver brand through an ad campaign in the fall of 2006, just before the EPA's announcement. Others are entering the market as well, although their intent is to use silver to enhance their own products—not license it to others. The use of actual nanoparticles of silver has a bit of catching up to do (compared to the other technologies already in the market), but NanoHorizons is making good progress.
And competition is afoot—it turns out that silver isn't alone in its anti-microbial properties. I've seen hints of the use of titanium oxide, and even copper. In fact, a hospital is apparently replacing all of the stainless steel in one area of its facility with copper to see how successful it really is at reducing infection rates.
Of course, the use of copper is a bit of a risky proposition right now given its price in the commodities market—which has made it a hot property amongst thieves worldwide. Copper is being stolen from train tracks in Italy, phone cables in France, and utility lines and new home developments in the United States. But then again, maybe the use of nanoparticles might be a solution in some of these situations.
Last year, I compared the emergence of silver as an anti-microbial to the explosion in the use of anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners, and hand sanitizers a decade ago. The most interesting aspect of what's taking place now isn't the use of silver per se (nanoparticles or otherwise), but rather, the approach. Instead of physically cleaning something with an anti-microbial product of some sort, the use of a thread or coating with anti-microbial properties means that that product is already basically germ-free.
However, while the infusion of silver into surfaces—such as shopping cart handles, door knobs, or countertops—may make the use of sanitizing gels and cloth wipes redundant, I doubt it will ever be deemed an alternative to simply washing your hands with soap and water.
This article is a transcript of the Bourne Report Podcast #36.
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