HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 52

Houston scientist taps nanotech in masks and air filters to use to prevent COVID-19 spread

University of Houston professor and entrepreneur, Seamus Curran, has pivoted amid the pandemic to use his nanotechnology expertise to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Integricote

For over a decade, Seamus Curran, a physics professor at the University of Houston, has worked on his nanotechnology coating substance. He first thought the innovation could be used on fabrics and textile coating, but he realized, once getting acquainted with the industry, he realized there wasn't an interest for a hydrophobic coating that could be used to prevent the spread of germs — at least, not yet.

"Like anything small startup company, one of the things you have to learn is you have to pivot — or you will die," says Curran, who had created his company Integricote (neé C-Voltaics) to take his innovation to market.

So pivot is what he did. Integricote now markets toward coating and sealing materials within the construction industry — wood, concrete, etc. — to protect from water damage and rotting. As Curran shares on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, business was growing steadily. That is until COVID-19 hit.

His construction coating business slowed, much like the rest of business across the country, and classes at UH switched to online. Curran used this newfound time at home to dig deeper into the details of the virus, when an idea hit him.

"I learned the virus traveled in a wet medium," Curran says, "(our coating) is hydrophobic, meaning we can stop it from penetrating any fabrics."

Curran worked to create hydrophobic facemasks using his sealant, and the technology was lauded and covered by various news organizations. He created a new company under Integricote, called Curran Biotech, and he started thinking of the next pandemic-proof innovation he could create using his sealant.

"The big thing for me when we were shut down was that people couldn't go to work or school. The country can't live that way — but you can't send people back to work in a world that's not safe," Curran says. "How do you create a safer environment? That's the thing that really got me going in the beginning in the summer. We looked at filters."

Curran, learning more about air filters than he ever cared to, realized that even the most expensive air filters can only protect from 10 to 25 percent of viruses. And most buildings' HVAC systems would have to be replaced completely to allow for these pricier, more protective filters.

"So, you'd have to replace your equipment and your filter prices go up — and you're still not blocking the virus," Curran says.

Curran Biotech's solution is a spray coating that can be used on air filters to make them more protected from COVID-19 spread.

Curran shared more about his nanotechnology innovation — as well as his excitement for being named one of MassChallenge Texas's finalist within the 2020 Houston cohort — in the episode of the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

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