A magnification of the edge of the silicon dioxide layer created by the liquid glass spray. Image copyright Nanopool.

Liquid Glass Spray
Tech Level: 10

This is a mixture of silicon dioxide—a form of glass--extracted from quartz sand and mixed with either water or ethanol. When applied as a spray, the silicon dioxide coats the surface as it dries in a single layer a mere 100 nanometers thick, or about 500 times thinner than a human hair. The spray was developed by the German company Nanopool and is currently undergoing application trials.

On this tiny scale, the glass is very flexible, and said to be breathable—allowing air to pass between the individual particles easily. It is also water resistant and forms an effective barrier against dirt, bacteria, acids, heat, and ultraviolet radiation. The surface coated with the spray can be wiped clean of the glass with the application of hot water and a damp cloth.

Because it is repels bacteria—apparently the microbes have a hard time replicating on its surface—one of the major applications envisioned for the liquid glass is to maintain the sterility of surfaces in restaurants and hospitals. Surfaces that normally are sterilized every day with disinfectants instead need only be wiped off with hot water, as the silicon dioxide coating prevents the microbes from gaining any significant footholds. Food processing companies in Germany testing the spray have found that liquid-glass coated surfaces could remain sterile for months.

Liquid glass spray could also be used to add a new layer of protection to buildings, roofs, and stone monuments. Because it protects against water, heat, and UV light, it could extend the life of exterior paints and roof shingles by years.

There is also talk of using the liquid glass spray on clothing. The silicon dioxide layer is very flexible and would not impede the natural flow and bending of fabrics, and would add negligible weight. However, it would allow the clothing to become not only more water-resistant but stain proof. Red wine spilled on a silk shirt, for example, would just be wiped right off with no residue.

One of the more unusual applications envisioned is to use the liquid glass to protect the non-edible parts of food crops. For example, the leaves of grape vines or the trunks of orchard trees. Trials with such plants have found that the liquid glass works very well as an insect repellent, and helped to make the plants more resistant to fungal diseases.

Being a simple form of glass, the spray is non-toxic chemically. However, a number of people have expressed concern that breathing in the tiny particles of silicon dioxide could lead to a type of silicosis, a condition caused by inhaling silicon crystals. There has also been some discussion of possible complications arising if the glass would happen to come in contact with the eye. Like with using spray paints or spray-on insulating foam, a user would probably have to use a filter mask and goggles during application to be safe, and use it only in a well-ventilated area.


Article added 6/18/10