Boston-based Sappi North America, a worldwide leader in diversified paper and packaging products, with two mills in Maine, has launched a "first of its kind" casting and release paper inspired by the texture of shark skin, which creates surfaces that inhibit bacterial growth without the use of toxic additives or chemicals.
The new release paper, which Sappi North America has entered into an exclusive license agreement with Colorado-based Sharklet Technologies Inc. to manufacture and distribute, is seen as having strong market potential for health care institutions and other businesses that need to minimize the risk of bacterial infection. Its patented Sharklet micro-texture mimics the texture of shark skin, which a published 2014 study in Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control journal reported reduced surface contamination of various types of staph bacteria by as much as 97%, compared to controls.
"Sappi continues to innovate and find creative ways to prove the power of paper," Tom Collins, vice president and general manager of Sappi North America's specialties business, said in a written statement announcing the new product, which the R&D team at Sappi's Westbrook mill played a key role in developing. "With this new offering, we're moving beyond the aesthetics of synthetic leathers and laminates into true functionality. Neoterix ST [the name of the new release paper] has the potential to make a significant impact on the risk of bacteria transfer in health care institutions, restaurants, hotels, offices and just about anywhere we can touch."
In a follow-up phone interview with Mainebiz, Collins said Sharklet Technologies, based in Aurora, Colo., patented the technology inspired by the texture of shark skin, which initially was found to create a unique texture and pattern that naturally slows the growth of barnacles and algae. In its R&D work with Sharklet, he said, Sappi developed technology to impart the Sharklet microtexture, at micron-level fidelity, onto its release paper.
The Sharklet surface is comprised of millions of microscopic features arranged in a distinct diamond pattern. The structure of the pattern alone inhibits bacteria from attaching, colonizing and forming biofilms and the Sharklet surface contains no toxic additives or chemicals and uses no antibiotics or antimicrobials.
"We're proud to work with Sharklet Technologies to apply its patented microtexture technology on our papers in order to add an environmentally-safe, non-toxic tool in the battle against germs," Collins said.
Like all of Sappi's release papers, that enables the new shark skin-textured Neoterix ST paper to act as a mold for coated fabric and laminates. In simple terms: It transfers the texture and gloss onto other surfaces and then is stripped away. Collins said the pattern could be applied to walls, countertops, disposable hospital drapes, furniture and other "high-touch areas" in environments where there's particular need to protect against transferring infectious bacteria.
"The smallest piece in that pattern is only a couple of microns long," he said, comparing it to a red blood cell's typical 8-micron size. "We have the capability to make this microscopic texture in long and wide roll paper."
Collins said Sappi and Sharklet have patented the release paper processes and are working to make Neoterix ST commercially available globally in early 2017.
"We will both be working together to find the customers," he said. "Sharklet provides the technology, we provide the medium that allows that technology to go forward commercially."
Collins said the Neoterix ST release paper would be manufactured at Sappi's Westbrook mill. He said it is too early to tell how the new product will be received, but noted that both companies are bullish about its potential.
"We have several companies we're talking with," he said. "Both Sharklet and Sappi are securing patents [to safeguard their proprietary technology]."
"Currently, many industries are using antimicrobial chemicals and metals to kill microbes on surfaces," Mark Spiecker, CEO of Sharklet Technologies, said in a written statement. "There is a trend emerging to remove these toxins from health care and personal settings to provide healthier environments for people and patients. With Sappi as a trusted partner, we can change the dynamic in how we create cleaner surfaces."
Sappi's parent company, Sappi Limited [JSE: SAP], is traded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
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