Sunday, March 14, 2004

Prosaic Potty-Cleaning Nanoparticles

Excellent case study in the Mercury News on how nanosize particles are being used as a disinfectant by EnviroSystems of San Jose, Calif. The story pretty much encapsulates nanotechnology from the customers' and (smart) investors' point of view in this passage:

    Some EnviroSystems investors don't seem to care that EcoTru uses much-hyped nanotechnology. Board member David Druker, a Los Altos Hills dermatologist, said he invested in the company because he knows other disinfectants are harmful to the skin.

    "At the time I invested, they didn't even know that nanotechnology would be useful,'' he said. "What's interesting is that it's effective and non-toxic.''

Exactly. Forget about what hypesters (hype hucksters?) like this guy say. The reality is: nanotech, shmanotech; if it works, then it'll sell.

One confusing part of the Mercury New story, though:

    Whether EcoTru constitutes true nanotechnology is open to debate.

    By some definitions nanotechnology really involves designing unique particles that exist on the nano level, a size on par with atoms and molecules.

I'm not sure exactly what the "debate" is, then. Ecotrue does, in fact, use unique nanoscale particles.

Small Times covered this story about a year ago. At the time, I questioned the reporter on whether this really was nanotechnology. I decided to go with it because it really was the nanoscale size of the particles that gave them their unique properties. Small Times reported in February 2003:

    EcoTru uses nanospheres of oil droplets ranging from about 170 nanometers suspended in water to create a nanoemulsion that adheres to bacterial cells. According to Brent Nixon, EnviroSystems' vice president of marketing, the nanospheres are not only valued for their surface area, but also allow EcoTru to be manufactured with .2 percent of the biocidal compound PCMX, compared to the 3-5 percent solution found in non-nano solutions.

The Mercury News story placed the particles at 250 nanometers in width, but either way it's a bit larger than the generally accepted 100-nanometer threshold. I decided to make an exception, anyway. Close enough for me.

If the "debate" that the Merc is referring to is not over the difference between 250 nanometers and 100, I'm guessing a clue can be found in the story's first paragraph:

    Nanotechnology enthusiasts envision a world of microscopic robots, cell-sized computer chips and other fantastic devices.

I'm working on a piece right now that discusses whether nanotech creates new markets or merely enhances old ones. One point that I make is that we are seeing a new skepticism in the way the popular media cover nanotechnology because there's a frustration with the disconnnect that exists between promises and current reality. Nano promises everything, yet produces nothing but scratch-resistant paints, stain-resistant pants and better anti-bacterial soaps. It's all neat stuff, but is this what the government is spending billions of dollars on? Where are my targeted drug-delivery devices? Where are my molecular memory chips? Or, if you haven't already mind-melded with the NNI, where are my nanobots?

It's all on its way. But, as you'll read in this piece I'm working on, if the revolution is going to be VC funded and if it's going to produce any short-term products, nano is going to need to integrate into existing products and processes. Therefore, enter EcoTru, the prosaic potty-cleaning nanoparticles.


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