Sanitation Startup EleClean to Receive Innovation Award at CES 2019 for a Technology That Turns Pure Water Into a Powerful Disinfectant

18 Jan

How would you feel if there is a kind of disinfectant solution made of 100% pure water without any chemical additives? What if the same disinfectant is not only strong enough to kill most disease-causing microorganisms (e.g. enteroviruses, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa) but is also so gentle that it does not cause skin irritation? What if everyday consumers can produce this disinfectant anytime and anywhere using a highly portable and eco-friendly device? Does a product like this sound too good to be true?

Well, such a product does exist. EleClean, a startup specializing in sanitization technologies, has created the EleClean Disinfectant Spray. It is a device that can self-manufacture a powerful disinfectant solution almost instantly and without the addition of standard cleaning chemicals that may cause skin problems (e.g. rash, inflammation, and other allergic reactions) and even cancers.

The EleClean Disinfectant Spray is designed to be extremely compact (14.8 cm tall, 4.7 cm wide, and weighing 100 grams) so that it can be carried from one place to another. To operate, just add a small amount of water into the device and turn its power on. In 15 minutes, the water will be converted into reactive oxygen species (ROS) – an antimicrobial agent that not only kills common pathogens but also at a removal rate of 99.99%. Once the spray has been applied to the target area, the sterilization effect can last up to 72 hours.

The principle behind ROS as a disinfectant is the electrolysis of water ions that produce oxidizing agents such as hydroxyl radical, superoxide radical, and hydrogen peroxide. These substances are highly reactive and will destroy the protein structures of viruses and bacteria upon contact. After these oxidizing agents have attacked the biological targets and completed their chemical reactions, they will transform back into harmless water or oxygen molecules.

“By converting water into ROS, we have finally found the most effective and safest disinfection method,” said Chien-Hung Chen, CEO of EleClean. Just 38 years old, Chen looks not much different from the youthful, energetic members of his team. The group photo of the startup team taken for this article also shows Chen in high spirit as his employees, not exactly fitting the mold of a typical corporate leader. However, his language and demeanor during the interview reflect his solid background in research as well as an aspect of his personality that is driven and dedicated. After all, the design and research behind the EleClean Disinfectant Spray is the culmination of six years of hard work.

▲ Chien-Hung Chen, founder and CEO of EleClean

 

The needs of disaster relief guided the R&D efforts and take the design of the equipment for on-site disinfection back to the source – water

Before founding EleClean, Chen had worked at Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) for 13 years as a senior researcher focusing on water treatment technologies. During his stint at ITRI, Chen played a major role in developing Q-Water, a highly acclaimed mobile water purification system, as well as other types of equipment for water treatment. By chance, Chen also had the opportunities to participate in several humanitarian missions through organizations such as the Red Cross. In his visits to the remote and less developed areas that were affected by natural disasters, Chen gained a deep realization that some sanitation and water-related problems that disaster-stricken communities have experienced are even beyond the capabilities of water treatment specialists. “Besides the provision of drinking water and electricity, the process of environmental cleanup and the maintenance of hygiene are also major issues that disaster-relief organizations have to deal with,” said Chen.

Infectious diseases tend to appear and spread quickly after a natural disaster due to the significant deterioration of the environment, and they are often the main cause of the sharp rise in the mortality rate within the disaster zone. Also, an area that has just been hit by a natural disaster is likely to suffer a shortage of resources. At the same time, the quantities of disinfection kits that medical teams and volunteer groups can bring with them are often very limited. How first responders can rapidly clean up the disaster zone with existing resources at hand while not causing secondary damages to the environment eventually became the key issue that consumed Chen’s attention.

Most disinfectants on the market are either based on hypochlorous acid (i.e. bleaches) or alcohols. Although they are strong enough to kill most kinds of disease-causing microorganisms and inexpensive to mass produce, they can be very dangerous to humans, animals, and the wider environment if misused. For instance, hypochlorous acid is unstable and can react with other acids to produce the highly poisonous chlorine gas. As for alcohol-based disinfectants, they may cause skin allergies for some people, and their efficacy against enteroviruses is rather weak. In addition to their shortcomings, these two chemical disinfectants are generally not readily available in disaster-stricken areas.

Given the potential dangers and impracticalities of chemical-based disinfectants, Chen decided to take the design of his new disinfectant solution back to the basics, which is simply water. During the initial conception of his disinfectant manufacturing equipment, he hit upon the idea that the two elements of water – oxygen and hydrogen – can be rearranged to form ROS, thus solving the problem of finding an effective disinfectant.

While the principle behind the conversion of water into ROS appeared simple enough, the actual construction of a device that performs this process was the real beginning of the challenge. The speed of electrolysis had to be calibrated carefully so that the solution in the device has the potency to destroy most pathogens but remains mild enough to avoid skin irritations. At the same time, there was the even bigger problem of scaling down the electrolysis component to the point where it can fit into a small spray bottle.

“It took around six to seven years to select the materials, design the electrolysis module, and build the whole product,” said Chen. “In fact, our team just finished creating the first prototype last year. This shows that we have successfully entered a specialized field that has a very high technical barrier.”

▲ The outer design of EleClean Disinfectant Spray is sleek and minimal.

 

Widely recognized for being safe and environment-friendly, the EleClean Disinfectant Spray is poised to ride on the global demand for green technologies

The current model of the EleClean Disinfectant Spray is equipped with a set of nanoscale catalytic electrodes and comes with an activation crystal that is contained inside the spray bottle to facilitate the conversion process. To use the device, simply pour 20 milliliters of water into the spray bottle and press the power button on the side of the bottle. In 15 minutes, the water in the bottle will turn into a disinfectant solution that is odorless, tasteless, and non-irritable. Since the ROS is made from just water and will turn back into water after killing the pathogens via the oxidation process, it is totally non-toxic. The product has also passed a stringent skin test to ensure that it does not cause skin allergies and has no carcinogenic risks.

The EleClean Disinfectant Spray differentiates from the typical products that are on the market with its ability to instantly manufacture the disinfectant solution by itself with only water and electricity. At the same time, the device is highly portable and easy to use. By reducing health concerns related to chemical disinfectants and preservatives, the EleClean Disinfectant Spray represents a new option that is safe, effective, and environment-friendly.

Undoubtedly, “safe and environment-friendly” is the message that EleClean wants to present to the public. Chen often wonders why consumers are so intent on using poisonous and noxious substances to disinfect things. “The surface of an ordinary desk, for instance, actually contains just a small quantity of bacteria,” said Chen. “And yet common disinfectant sprays and wipes for cleaning the desk surface are extremely harsh for their users.”

Since the goal is to lower the concentration of disease-causing viruses and bacteria within the environment to a safe level for human health, chemical disinfectants are not always necessary and may be harmful in some cases. Infants, for example, could accidentally come in contact with chemical disinfectants and get seriously poisoned. Protecting young children from toxic substances, including those present in household cleaning products, is an idea that all parents can rally behind.

And, because the EleClean team has done so much in advancing environment-friendly solutions, the National Taipei University of Technology has invited the company to promote the “Green Chemistry Program” on its campus this year. The program, which was initiated by the Toxic and Chemical Substance Bureau of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency, encourages students to pursue innovations that benefit both consumers and the environment.

The use of green technologies has become a global trend recently. Consumers in Taiwan have also shifted their preferences when it comes to purchasing household products. Previously, they tended to choose inexpensive and mass-manufactured goods with qualities and lifespans that are maintained by chemical additives. Now, however, they are increasingly demanding safer and more natural goods from vendors. This change in attitude is not only consistent with the global trend but also the result of hard-learned lessons, such as the food safety scandals that rocked Taiwan’s society in the past several years.

Oxford Dictionaries has selected “toxic” as its international word of the year for 2018. Apart from being applicable to most of the major news events of the year (e.g. the poisoning of the ex-Russian spy in Britain, the air pollution crisis in India, and the worsening of political culture worldwide), the word “toxic” also reveals a reaction against the deterioration of the environment as well as a desire to live in a society that is healthier, less stressful, and more transparent in terms of knowledge and information. In this respect, EleClean’s mission of balancing the quality of human life and the quality of the wider environment fits in with the public mood.

▲ The EleClean Disinfectant Spray operates in three easy steps: (1) Add 20 milliliters of pure water into the spray bottle; (2) and then press the power button on the bottle to begin electrolysis, and after 15 minutes the indicator light on the button will turn from red to blue, signaling that the water has been transformed into ROS; (3) and finally apply the disinfectant on the target areas.

 

The possibilities for future development are endless as EleClean explores overseas market channels

Founded less than two years ago, this startup of just 15 people with an average age of less than 35 years has now entered into a partnership with Chunghwa Senior Care to open up sales channels in the domestic market. Chunghwa Senior Care is a subsidiary of Chunghwa Chemical Synthesis & Biotech, Taiwan’s oldest manufacturer and wholesaler of drugs and pharmaceutical products. EleClean plans to enter the international market next year, and it has already made contact with Singapore’s Ma Kuang Chinese Medicine and Research Center as well as with other major pharmaceutical companies in Mainland China and Japan. EleClean is also probing opportunities with a diverse range of businesses including cross-border e-commerce platforms and distributors.

EleClean will be exhibiting at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2019) in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States. The startup has been selected as a member of the delegation led by Taiwan Tech Arena, an incubator that is funded by the Ministry of Science and Technology. During the event, Chen and his team will be showcasing the EleClean Disinfectant Spray, which has won the CES Innovation Award in the home appliances category and paving the way for access to the US market.

“The possibilities of our technology are infinite,” said Chen with high confidence when he was asked about the future development of his company. Currently, the EleClean Disinfectant Spray is the only device in existence that manufactures ROS disinfectant for household applications. Going forward, Chen and his team will also be devising other personal and household cleaning products. They may even scale up their technology so that it can support various industrial and commercial applications (e.g. disinfection and sterilization equipment for factories, care homes, livestock farms, and biotechnology research centers). According to its roadmap, EleClean intends to release one to two new products every year, thus providing safe, sustainable, and effective options for many types of cleaning tasks.

When asked about the support he has received during the pursuit of his venture, Chen said that he is extremely grateful for his family and investors for allowing him to take this journey of establishing a startup that develops a new technology to address the needs of remote or disaster-stricken areas. Because of their support, he can now gradually push his company onto the global stage. Chen is also thankful for ITRI and its former president Chintay Shih. ITRI has been providing him and other entrepreneurs with resources and financial backing so that they can commercialize their innovations. The organization continues to stay true to its mission of supporting industries to develop new technologies that have “social impacts” and can be used to create markets for new products and services. As a spin-off from ITRI, EleClean will continue to use the patented technologies that originated from the institution to change the way people clean and disinfect. The members of the startup team collectively hope that their solutions will contribute significantly to the society’s sustainable and balanced development in the future.

▲ EleClean was founded less than two years ago. The average age of the entire team is under 35 years. After opening up the domestic market, the company plans to expand overseas in 2019.

 

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