Hygiene is a vital consideration for many sectors, but the recent coronavirus pandemic has made it even more important. Centrego, which has seen its turnover increase eightfold as a result of the pandemic, manufactures electrochemical activation (ECA) devices which use electricity to generate powerful but non-toxic, environmentally safe biocides from water and salt. These biocides – chemicals which attack harmful organisms – can be used to disinfect water, hard surfaces, fabrics and for food treatment.
The company is developing three new systems to generate these biocide-based disinfectants in response to increased demand due to the pandemic: a small generator to develop batches of biocide for domestic and small commercial uses; a medium-sized “flow-through” generator – a new technology for the company – to make a concentrated mixed oxidant solution; and an emergency portable system for disaster response.
However, the company was experiencing problems in optimising the performance of the electrochemical cells for these new systems: they were using too much salt and were not lasting as long as required. Centrego had reached the limit of its technical expertise in investigating these problems and would have abandoned the project if not for the M4R programme which allowed it to access the National Physical Laboratory’s facilities.
Centrego asked NPL’s electrochemistry group to help it characterise the performance of its prototype ‘The Toucan Flow-NM’ device. The NPL team carried out experiments varying the operating conditions of the cell such as current, salt concentration and flow rate, while monitoring the voltage and concentration of biocide produced. This was done with advanced analytical equipment that Centrego would not have had access to otherwise. The experimental results combined with electrochemical theory indicated possible reasons for the unsatisfactory lifetime and suggested routes for improvement.
The project was essential in providing the missing technological piece of the product development puzzle, enabling Centrego to complete the product and bring it to market. The result is an affordable, high throughput device that produces highly concentrated but safe biocide disinfectants.
Centrego began selling the system early 2021 and sold ten systems in two months. The disinfectant solution itself is also being delivered to NHS COVID Testing Centres where they are used to mist the facilities to reduce potential infection transfer on surfaces and in the air. It will also use these results in a project with the University of the West of England to develop a device for disinfecting drinking and washing water in remote communities, which is targeted for use in rural India. This commercialisation and early sales would have been delayed for an unknown period had the M4R project not gone ahead.