In the time of Covid-19 pandemic it is of great importance to disinfect and improve the quality of air we breathe.This is exactly what the newly established spin-off called PCN Materials (from Photo-Catalytic Nano Materials), of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (FORTH), is also engaged in. The improvement of air quality and the disinfection of mainly indoor areas such as hospitals, schools, hotels, biological stations, nursing homes and other social structures, etc., in which the average citizen spends more than 90% of his time daily, is the subject of the company’s researchers. However, they do not paint the walls with whitewash, but cover them with photocatalytic materials that have the property, with the help of visible light, to deconstruct air pollutants and fight pathogenic microorganisms such as staphylococcus, Klebsiella of pneumonia, streptococcus, coliform E-Coli, primarily in the gas phase and and the MS2 Bacteriophage virus in wastewater. These materials are produced in the form of powder, mixed with various kinds of inorganic and organic materials (paints, coatings) and cover surfaces of glass, fibers (fabrics), plaster, cement, drywall, wood or metal.
The spin-off was founded in October 2019, just before the outbreak of the pandemic, by the Professor of the Department of Physics of the University of Crete (1981-2017) and founder of the Research Group of Transparent Conductive Materials (TCM) of the Institute of Electronic Structure and Lasers (ΙESL) of FORTH since 1991, Georgios Kyriakidis and the post-doctoral researcher at FORTH and visiting professor at the Department of Physics of the University of Crete, Vassilis Binas.However, the general public got to know the company during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it created cotton face masks with a special high-efficiency antibacterial coating against pathogenic microorganisms that it made available to institutions and individuals.
PCN Materials PC utilizes patented innovative technology, which is a product of basic and applied research of high quality, carried out at the IESL and is the first in FORTH to achieve funding from its very first steps through venture capital company Big Pi, one of the startup entrepreneurship support funds of the EquiFund superfund. The company is a member of the startup registry Elevate Greece and the startup cluster SEV and takes the form of a B2B that appeals to other businesses looking for ways to improve their products giving them anti-pollution and/ or anti-microbial properties.
The company’s management team, apart from the two founders, includes the Head of Strategy and Business Development, Anastasios Kladis, who has many years of business activity in management positions in businesses in Greece and abroad, while the younger and very enthusiastic members of the team that staff Research and Development and production sectors are young graduates of greek universities with whom the founders of the company have collaborated in the past on a scientific level. So far the spin-off employs 6 people as permanent staff and 3 as external partners, while its headquarters are located in the Industrial Park of Anopolis (BIOPAN) of the Municipality of Hersonissos, in a specially designed area where the operation of a pilot production of photocatalytic materials has already begun.
Professor Georgios Kyriakidis, founder and CEO of the company, who has also served as director of the Scientific and Technological Park of Crete (1994-97) and president of the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS) for the period 2017-2019,talks to startupper.gr about this pioneering venture and its development prospects.
Professor G. Kyriakides: Two are our most notable projects on which we built the reliability of our company’s products. The first took place in 2015 and concerned renovation, in collaboration with the Region of Crete, of the tunnel of the northern road axis at the height of Malia, Crete with a coating containing the photocatalytic dust.The result was the elimination of pollutants, the circulation of fresh air and the saving of more than 54,000 euros per year from the maintenance costs. The second was completed in 2017 and concerned an important cooperation with the Hellenic Army General Staff and the application of an anti-pollution / bactericidal swab in the clinics and patient wards of the training center for recruiting reserve officers (Camp SEPAP) in Heraklion, Crete, with spectacular results of reducing nitrogen oxides pollutants of 70% and the load of gaseous pathogens of 99%. Today the company is at an advanced level of cooperation (MoU) with 6 partners who utilize processes and mechanisms for the incorporation of photocatalytic powder in matrices of their products.
Startupper: What level of technological readiness is the company currently at?
Professor G.Kyriakides: The company has created a pilot industrial unit with a production capacity of 3-5 tons per year and with a developed R&D (Research and Development) sector. The purpose of this unit is to cover small-scale customer orders, to be able to supply potential customers with samples from the material and to find new applications.In recent months, we have added to our list of applications filters for air conditioning systems, which I think can be decisive for the company’s course. The business plan for the development of PCN Materials aims at the creation of a serious industrial infrastructure for which the corresponding funds are already being sought by greek and international investment circles. The structured model of production and business activity available to spin-off aims at creating factory productivity of about 1500 tons per year in order to meet the needs of the domestic and European market estimated at 980 million euros. The next business steps focus on the effort to broaden the production base and attract a strategic investor and / or capital that will contribute to the second phase of the company’s development the next 3-10 years.
Startupper: What are in your opinion the characteristics of the spin-off that make it stand out at the level of competition at the moment?
Professor G. Kyriakidis: Titanium dioxide is known for its photocatalytic properties, but all modern competing materials work primarily with the influence of harmful ultraviolet radiation, while they also produce dangerous for health by-products.PCN Materials has modified titanium dioxide in such a way that photocatalysis can also occur with visible (direct or diffuse daily or artificial / night lighting) without producing harmful by-products. In this way our material is safe to be used indoors. We have also managed to incorporate our material into a series of matrices and surfaces of materials thus expanding their application to a wide range of possible surfaces. Japan, which pioneered in the development of this technology, has incorporated applications on various surfaces in 70% of its buildings across the country.
Startupper: In Greece there is often talk of the inability to link research with entrepreneurship. Why is this happening and what in your opinion needs to be changed?
Professor G. Kyriakidis: As a university teacher with a 40-year term in teaching and research, I believe that, both in terms of human and scientific/research resources, Greece is at a very high level internationally. The production of new knowledge, compared to the size of the country and the infrastructure it has, is remarkably high. However, what has always been morally and institutionally undervalued is the encouragement of entrepreneurship in academic / research circles through the exploitation of basic and mainly applied research products. As a result, we remain significantly behind in linking research with production, with the exception of a few investment initiatives encouraged by the well-established executives of our research centres. Nevertheless, research on innovative technology is at a very satisfactory level and competes with a positive sign with countries with a long tradition. In recent years, initiatives such as Equifund’s initiatives that utilize national and European resources combined with political efforts to encourage entrepreneurship have contributed decisively to the creation of a series of new companies (startups) with a strong technological orientation. I hope and pray that these initiatives will multiply in the coming years, on the one hand for the good of the national economy and on the other hand, in order to reverse the wave of exodus of renowned young scientists. Already 60% of the human resources of PCN Materials consist of young graduates who, under other circumstances, were probably looking for a professional outlet abroad.
According to Professor Kyriakidis, PCN Materials managed to be distinguished in the Panhellenic Competition “Building Materials Awards 2020” by winning the 1st (Gold) prize of the “Advanced Materials” category “Composite Materials” and leaving behind renowned companies in the field of building materials, while recently it was selected as a finalist in the competition of the accelerator program by the ORGANIZATION MITEF (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum) which aims at education and support of promising greek startups in their first business steps in the international competitive environment. In addition, PCN Materials was selected, among 500 candidates, by plug and play, based in Silicon Valley, California, in order to be included in the list of the 17 most promising new business initiatives in the field of materials, on an international scale, preceded by the awarding of the “EcoCities” awards 2018 “Environmental Sensitivity.”