Czech nanotech companies move from strength to strength

Around a year ago I traced some of the achievements of the Czech Republic’s nano technology companies, many of which are making an impact on the European and global scene. Twelve months on, I went back to the source, chairman of the Czech Nanotechnology Industries Association, Jiří Kůs, and asked him how companies and key sectors are faring in this cutting edge part of the market.

Jiří Kůs, photo: archive of Jiří KůsJiří Kůs, photo: archive of Jiří Kůs “We are growing at the moment, we are already 20 members. We are covering from textiles, to bio-technology, almost all the sectors. In the first of this year, there were quite some important product developments…”

Maybe we could already talk about what those product developments were?

“The most important thing was the further development of the 3-D nano battery, which is a unique concept of a battery using nano technology in the separator which could start a boom in [energy] decentralisation using batteries. This concept could cut the costs of batteries to one third. Last year, Mr [Jan] Procházka, the inventor and company manager, finalised a prototype and this year he managed to find an investor, a Chinese company, which is ready to invest 1.0 million euros for construction of the line for the industrial manufacturing of this battery. I checked how far this has developed and they told me that this or next month they will finalise the construction of this line and the aim is to start industrial production of this 3D battery by the end of this year.”

To put this battery in context, a cheap battery that can store energy will transform the world energy sector if this happens?

Recyclable battery, photo: archive of HE3DARecyclable battery, photo: archive of HE3DA “Yes, because production of this battery is much cheaper than all the other batteries in production at the moment in the world. When you calculate the production costs of 1 KWh of battery costs 300-400 US dollars and this 3D battery would cost less than 100 dollars. Imagine that the price of batteries would drop by a third or even less. It would mean a boom of electric cars and decentralised energy. This was perhaps the most important things but there were others. For instance, the company nanoSpace which is involved in anti-allergic bedding using nano fibres at the beginning of this year launched so-called nano cotton. It is a sandwiched textile using this nano barrier but outside there is normal cotton, so the textile looks like cotton but inside you have this nano barrier against dust mites and all these allergens and so on. It means that people can use it like normal cotton bedding.

“Another thing, you know the Czech Republic is quite strong in bio-technology, so using nano technology in bio-tech, applications. One of the companies is Nanopharma and Nanopharma launched a product called Nano Matrix, which means they are using nano fibre to cultivate replacement organs. With this nano matrix you can cultivate replacement human skin.”

Is it just skin, I mean you mentioned organs….

“Imagine that the price of batteries would drop by a third or even less.”

“More complicated organs are also possible to cultivate. At the moment we are at the beginning, it is not possible yet to cultivate another heart or another stomach…

But in theory this could be possible?

“Yes, it is possible. Another interesting company is Pardam from Roudnice nad Labem. They are the manufacturers of different organic and inorganic nano fibres. They are also part of a European project which is developing the power supply to wearables. Wearables, they are being talked about more and more, as electronic devices we wear on out clothes or smart watches and so on. There is a lot of electronics and this needs a power supply and Pardam is supplying the nano fibers and developing so-called tiers of electric supply.”

Basically the nano fibres are like very small electric wires.

“Yes.”

Photo: archive of ContiproPhoto: archive of Contipro I also saw something, you had a fairly big exhibition or show in May in Prague and I saw something about nano masks which get rid of wrinkles. That would probably be quite a bit market, I imagine?

“Yes, there are two companies doing this, one of them is Nafigate which launched the face mask with nano fibres which you can remove within minute, in combination with hyaluronic acid, the wrinkles under your eyes. You know that hyaluronic acid is a marvellous thing for cosmetics and it is actually the filling in cells which you lose as you get older. It fills the cells again with that and you look younger. The nano fiber helps a lot to for the acid to penetrate the cells.”

Is it permanent or temporary removal?

“No, it’s not permanent but they say that if you are using it for one or two months then some of the changes are becoming irreversible. The other company is Contipro and it is not just one of the major Czech but also European manufacturers of hyaluronic acid. They supply to many European and world cosmetics companies and they have their own device for producing nano fibers and they managed to make a mask from hyaluronic acid nano fibres. You put it on your face, wet it with water and this acid then gets into you cells.”

“With this nano matrix you can cultivate replacement human skin.”

A lot of these companies have come up with new applications for nano technology, a lot of them are still small and it’s probably still difficult for them to market their products and explain and make inroads into the market, is that the case?

“Yes, yes, yes, that’s still the case, most of the companies are really small or medium sized, with the exception of Conti pro of course, which is quite a big company.

“One of the things that I forgot to mention, one of the medium sized Czech nano companies is I Q Structures. In fact, some of the people who created that company were involved a lot in holographics and that sort of thing and they used nano technology to protect documents and products and so on. They are also involved in nano optics. They have a sister company in the United Kingdom with almost 100 employees and they launched this year an entirely new product which is using nano technology in hydrogen pure cells. You need to use quite a lot of platinum in hydrogen fuel cells and they manage with nano structuring to reduce that amount,. It means it is much, much cheaper and that means besides this electro future there could also be a hydrogen future for fuel. IQ Structures is not so small.

“But you are right, Czech nano companies are still fighting and searching for partners and investors not just to place their products on Czech market and European markets but also outside of Europe and Asia and the USA.”

“They are also part of a European project which is developing the power supply to wearables.”

And your own experience, the company you are involved in is focused on anti-allergic bed liner, pillows, etc. How is the market developing there?

“This company is now stabilised on the Czech market and also in Slovakia. We are still looking for finances to invest in growth because the company is still growing but we need more capital for that. We are negotiating with some investors. We are preparing to expand our markets.”

But the demand is there?

“Demand is incredible. According to statistics some 30-40 percent of people in industrial countries have some kind of allergies and the estimation of the World Health Organisation is that maybe in two or three years half of the population in industrial countries, the US, Europe, or industrial countries in Asia, would have allergies. When you calculate what the potential is for allergy bedding, it is incredible. This barrier bedding is 100 percent effective passive protection against dust mites without chemicals. But it is not easy to make the marketing at a global level.