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Air Force invention kills toxins on contact

Image of Man in white coat doing experiments. The Air Force is licensing patent rights to a disease-control coating additive to a private-sector company who wants to put the formula in paint and other products. The formula was invented by Dr. Jeff Owens, a senior chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center. Owens developed the technology in collaboration with the Army — collaborative research and development funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Joint Science and Technology Office under the Chemical and Biological Defense program.

An Air Force invention could be key to reducing the amount of airborne microbes - like viruses, bacteria and mold spores - inside buildings and homes.

In 2009, the U.S. Air Force submitted a patent application for an invention that coats surfaces with a protective finish, killing toxins on contact.

The technology, which was granted a patent in 2013, was invented by Dr. Jeff Owens, a senior chemist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, to support his work in chemical and biological warfare defense. 

Today, the Air Force is licensing the rights to that technology to a private-sector company that wants to use Owens’ patented formula in paints and other products.

“The patented technology is essentially an additive that can be incorporated into coatings for surfaces and textiles to protect against bioaerosols like viruses, bacteria and mold,” Owens said.

Under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, Florida-based Theriax is collaborating with members of the Civil Engineer Laboratory at Tyndall to develop next-generation coatings that deactivate biological and chemical weapons for the Air Force. This CRADA will also allow the company to bring this technology to the commercial paint market.

The partnership provides a mutually beneficial opportunity for the company to develop a commercial paint product that the Air Force could one day use to improve quality of life and health for Airmen and their families on base, Owens said.

Mold growth is a regular challenge for coastal installations, but after the destruction of Hurricane Michael in October 2018, the CE Lab, like many base buildings that remained intact, required hefty cleanup and a fresh coat of paint. Salter said the research team used the antimicrobial paint on one wall.

The wall remained mold free for six months before the paint needed a recharge, however, over time the disinfectant charge wears off and the paint needs to be recharged by wiping down the treated surface with a disinfectant. The recharge frequency is largely dependent on the environmental conditions.

The partnership that began before Hurricane Michael is now focused on how its research can help in the fight against COVID-19.

While Owens and the other AFCEC scientists remain focused on mission applications of the technology, Owens acknowledged that commercially available products, like paint, would indirectly support the Air Force mission.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that reducing exposure pathways and lowering the concentration of infectious aerosols inside a room is critical to controlling disease spread,” Owens said. “This paint isn’t a magic bullet, but it could be one tool that helps makes a difference in the fight to protect human health.”

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