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Center Innovation Fund: SSC CIF

Anti-Microbial and Self-Cleaning Properties of Photocatalytic Surface Treatments and their Potential Use for Space-Based Applications

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

The purpose of this project was to implement a method to assess self-cleaning properties of commercially available photocatalytic surface treatments for their potential use for both Earth-based and space-based applications.

The NASA Office of Planetary Protection supports studies which examine contamination protection outside of the Earth, including the moon, other planets, planetary vehicles, and the International Space Station (ISS).

This protection is important to preserve the natural states of life outside of Earth, and to avoid contamination that would be detrimental to studies conducted beyond Earth; therefore, a higher level of cleanliness is imposed, more specifically for spacecraft and ISS use. Recent literature suggests the use of photocatalytic titanium dioxide (TiO2) coatings for contaminant control in indoor environments such as residences, office buildings, aircrafts, and spacecraft.  However, quantification and validation of these materials for this function is still required.

This project looked at a method to evaluate commercially available photocatalytic coating’s antimicrobial ability in a laboratory setting to consider their potential use in reducing the transmission of disease in a real life setting. These types of studies provide critical preliminary scientific information that can be used to help validate the utility of these commercially availableTiO2 coatings for antimicrobial purposes.

In practice, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces involves a considerable amount of effort, high consumption of energy and chemical detergents, and consequently high costs.

Current methods to sterilize assembled flight hardware elements include dry heat processing, gamma irradiation and hydrogen peroxide vapor processes.  Items such as sensors, battery and valve seals, and optical coatings will generally not survive these processes.  Because of these issues, NASA is concerned that planetary protection sterilization requirements may make future missions exceedingly costly.  Properly illuminated photocatalytic materials have been shown to kill microbes and decontaminate surfaces.

This project assessed the viability of using commercially available photocatalytic coatings as an alternative method of sterilizing previously non-sterilizable flight hardware. 

Hygienic photocatalyst coatings are formulated with light activated TiO2 which assists in the deactivation of bio-contamination sources like bacteria, viruses, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's), as well as tough odors. In recent years, photocatalyst coatings have demonstrated successful reduction of transmittable diseases like Bird Flu and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) infections in high risk areas. Many hospitals and buildings in Asia and Europe have been photocatalytically coated to increase the surface protection of these properties.

For this project, an experiment for testing the effects of commercially available TiO2 solutions in controlling the growth of bacteria, as an antibacterial activity test, was implemented. 


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