Czech Republic makes big impression with nanotechnology

AQ3 Industry water cleaner, photo: archive of VTI

Small country, but a big power in nanotechnology. That was the message at a recent industry conference in Prague. Based on a handful of pioneering patents in nanotechnology, the Czech Republic is now a regional leader in Nano applications and technology and up there with the best in Europe. Jiří Kůs is chairman of the Czech Nanotechnology Industries Association and I asked him how he became interested in the new technology.

Jiří Kůs,  photo: archive of Jiří Kůs
“I like new technologies. my background is technical, electro-technical, but something like three years ago I decided to create a company with nanotechnology. At the beginning I was thinking that it would be a company buying and selling different nanotechnology products but just by chance, with some friends of mine, we created a company manufacturing bed liner with nanofiber. We are first all over the world offering anti-allergic bed liner with nanofiber barrier, which is quite revolutionary.”

And the market there, given the number of people today who have allergies. I suppose it is quite large?

“Yes, yes, the potential of the market is very large because a high percentage of people all over the world are allergic. We have to perform quite a lot of education explaining how this nanofibers or textiles works and what it means that there is a mechanical barrier at the nano level which protects the space inside the pillow, for instance, or inside the mattresses against the penetration of allergen and dust mites and other micro-organisms and what is the difference, So potentially the market is big but we are creating a new market. So it is not easy work but it is going quite well.”

And the market is already taking off? You are exporting to Europe, or where are the main markets at the moment?

“We are still speaking about a fairly young companies. We started to sell two years ago and we already doubled the turnover last year. We have focused quite a lot on the Czech market but we have started some activities on some European countries and there is a negotiation to start some activities in Australia and South America. But we decided that we must be established first on the Czech market but we are thinking globally.”

“They just recently developed a project for agriculture, cleaning pig slurry.”

As well as your individual role, you also have a wider role as the chairman of the Czech Nanotechnologies Industries Association. Can you describe what the profile of nano industries is in the Czech Republic is at the moment?

“In fact when I started a few years ago with the idea of creating a nano company, I was mapping the situation. And by mapping it, I found amazing, amazing, things. I spoke with people and we agreed that it would be fine to create an association bringing together companies which have nanotechnology as the core business and to make more promotion for people inside the Czech Republic and also for the rest of the world about what amazing patents and things we have. But you have to take one thing into consideration: nanotechnology is not one new technological branch. It is a new technology that goes through all branches. That means from textiles to medicines and energy distribution and cosmetics and so on.

"From the historical point of view, nano fibers, textiles, is probably the core. There are companies using textiles, either with nano fiber barrier or nano silver and other things. Besides, we are quite strong in environmental applications, like water purification and air purification either using titanium dioxide painted on or special nano filters. There are very advanced applications also in medicine. The latest is the nano 3 D battery, which is a revolutionary project for energy distributors.”

Could I come back to one of the applications you mentioned there, the purification of water. How far is that down the line, how far has that developed? That has worldwide applications which are pretty obvious for advanced and third world countries.

AQ3 Industry water cleaner,  photo: archive of VTI
“There are several companies involved in that water cleaning business or application. The most interesting is probably the company VTI from Prague. It developed unique equipment for cleaning water in a different way from hat is standard on the market. They are able to clean the water even from radioactivity, Ebola virus, and for anything. It can make clean water from any dirty water and the equipment is ready and they are selling it all over the world. For instance, they are cleaning salt water from the sea in Egypt or Saudi Arabia for a hotel. In the Czech Republic, they just recently developed a project for agriculture, cleaning pig slurry. They make water from it and the separated part is made into pellets for heating. Such things are really incredible.”

And you mentioned the health aspect, the production of organs through 3D printing, nano 3D printing?

“There are three companies, maybe even more, involved in nano medicine. One of them is a company which developed 3D nano printers. They are able to print nano structures and then you use stem cells to build up replacement organs. The company is Nanopharma from Prague which has been in international projects for replacement organs.”

And what sort of organs are we talking about that can be developed and used?

“So it will give you a battery that can be charged very quickly, it is cheap, and it is safe. It opens the door to an energy revolution.”

“Any kind, even your ear.”

The inner ear?

“Yes, yes.”

And finally, the energy market that you mentioned and the prospect of developing what could be a nano battery. Could you talk about that and what are the advantages over conventional batteries?

“I mentioned that we are in a new industrial revolution, that means the use of renewable energies. The only obstacle is to have a really good battery with high capacity that is not so expensive to store energy and that is reliable. The concept of a 3D nano battery is very promising in this respect. It means that the layers are put one on top of another and which are thicker and in between there is a separator which is made from an organic nano fiber. The result is that it is safe, it can be over heated, it cannot explode. It is 100 percent safe. And another result is that charging the battery goes very quickly. And a third result, and maybe the most important, is that production of such a battery is very much cheaper. It is about one third in comparison with the standard. So it will give you a battery that can be charged very quickly, it is cheap, and it is safe. It opens the door to an energy revolution.”

And overall in the Czech Republic, you mentioned that there are around 40 companies involved in your association. Is that a full picture of the nanotechnology here and how do you see it developing? Is there a cluster developing here which is resulting in more companies?

Nano battery,  photo: archive of HE3DA
“I represent the Czech Nanotechnology Industries Association which group companies with nanotechnology as a core business. Beside that, you have many other applications and thousands of companies using something nano. You also have at every university laboratories dealing with nanotechnology. But what we have is really industrial companies which have nanotechnology as their core business. Their business is based on some kind of nanotechnology, that was the key.”

But is the overall sector developing fast in the Czech Republic, not just the core companies but companies that are taking certain aspects, certain applications and then putting them into their core business.

“It is going quite fast and I personally feel that we are at a turning point and the number of companies using or having some nanotechnology in their products, the number is really growing. From the other side, the companies are still pioneers so they are still small or mid-sized and they are fighting for investments and money which is normal for such things at the start. But it is growing.”