Protecting the environment by heightening “material functionality” through technology
Keeping your smart phone screen clean and smudge-free at all times can be quite an onerous task, given the constantly accumulating fingerprints, dust and grime. But now, thanks to technology developed by Japan’s NAZCA Corporation, you can create a liquid nano-coating for your screen capable of repelling dirt in just seconds, through the simple act of “kosuru,” or rubbing.
In November 2015, NAZCA, in collaboration with Hokkaido University, released CS1, the world’s first fluorine coating wipes for touch-panel smart phone and tablet screens. Drawing on the self-assembly behavior of fluorine, a chemical element with the ability to repel dirt and grease, the wipes cause a chemical reaction through rubbing that leads to the formation of a film on the screen surface. Used widely in coating non-stick frying pans, fluorine also makes it easier to wipe off dust and grease when they do happen to adhere to the surface.
CS1 comes in two sheets steeped in two different types of chemicals which, when rubbed onto the screen one after another in succession, trigger the crystallization of the fluorine film. Just 1.2 nanometers thick, the film is highly permeable and does not hamper the functionality of the touch-panel screens. As it forms a covalent bond with the phone’s screen surface, the coating retains its strength almost indefinitely. Furthermore, given NAZCA’s commitment to protecting the environment, none of the chemicals used are harmful to the human body.
But perhaps the most unique and innovative aspect of the product is the pure simplicity of the fluorine crystallization process. There is no need for expensive equipment or large production facilities – just a few seconds of rubbing. In the world of science, it is common knowledge that most chemical reactions occur as a result of ‘non-contact’ force, but the idea of using actual “contact” force, such as rubbing, to trigger a reaction was quite unheard of. This outside-the-box thinking was done by NAZCA founder and president Tadao Kimijima, who has a rather unorthodox career path.
Kimijima hails from the city of Utsunomiya in Tochigi Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. A lover of science since youth, he lost himself in physics and chemistry during his high school years. But instead of going on to major in natural sciences in university, he studied economics and management, in order to enter into his family business of running a high-end Japanese restaurant.
After graduating university, he spent a year and a half as a live-in apprentice chef at an old and established restaurant, before returning home and training under the head chef at his family establishment. It was while he was learning the ropes of cooking that his interest was piqued by various rules of food preparation; rules that everyone seemed to know by heart, yet no one seemed to fully understand.
For example, all experienced chefs know that using nails when pickling eggplants, salt when boiling green vegetables and copper pots when boiling wild vegetables bring out the colors of the ingredients in the most flattering way. But despite this being common knowledge gleaned from years of experience, no one in the cooking community could give him a satisfactory explanation on just how, or why, these things were so.
This sparked something inside the science-loving Kimijima, who had always been one to find out the “why” of things. He hated not knowing. So he decided to delve into the science of cooking, and eventually publish a book dedicated to the many “whys” of cooking and their answers.
Before going into the restaurant business, Kimijima’s family spent 30 years running a timber material production wholesaler near the historic hot spring town of Shiobara Onsen – the largest in the Kanto area. But as the nation’s economic growth waned and demand for construction material declined, Kimijima’s parents decided to exit the timber business. Using the finest timber material they had on hand, they set their sights instead on building and running a high-end Japanese restaurant.
As his parents’ eldest son, Kimijima thought it was only natural that he would take over the family business. But his thirst for knowledge continued nonetheless and Kimijima, drawing on the entrepreneurial spirit that ran in his family, started up a separate food and beverage company on the side. One of the divisions within this company, which would eventually become NAZCA, was created to research food and related materials from the context of environmental protection.
The first thing Kimijima did with the new firm was to start production of ceramics that emit negatively charged ions. The catalyst for this endeavor was his interest in discovering the secret to the wide-mouth ceramic jars used in the Japanese kitchens, called “kame,” which are capable of preserving sauces for a very extended period of time.
Kimijima continued to fund study of science as it related to cooking by using profits from the thriving restaurant arm of his business. It was during this time that a friend introduced him to Toshikazu Kawaguchi, an associate professor at Hokkaido University, and an expert in the field of positively charged photo catalysts.
The two immediately hit it off, and before long they were conducting joint research. In six months, they came up with the technology for fluorine coating. Taking a hint from the principles of emulsification, which Kimijima had researched when he took an interest in making dressing for Carpaccio (an Italian appetizer of raw meat or fish), the two eventually came up with the idea to use the self-assembly behavior of fluorine. With assistance from optical product and industrial equipment maker Ushio Inc., they applied their newfound technology to create an efficient fluorine coating method, using ultraviolet treatment, for glass materials for touch panel screens.
Two years later, CS1 was born. The product was made without any special ultraviolet or laser treatment, and involves just rubbing two types of chemicals on the screen using the specialized wipe sheets. In 2016, due to the groundbreaking simplicity of the rub-on coating, the first in the world, the product received the Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister's Award.
Tying up with Kawaguchi in 2014 enabled Kimijima to set up his company’s research base at Hokudai Business Spring, an incubation facility within the Hokkaido University campus, run by SME SUPPORT JAPAN. Soon after, NAZCA encountered an increase in business opportunities by participating in Japan’s largest SME business matching event organized by SME SUPPORT JAPAN.
It was there that NAZCA’s technology attracted lots of attention from representatives of large corporations, who started to approach NAZCA seeking the possibility of jointly developing new products or solutions for their needs. These included requests for solution-based products such as release agents (chemicals used to prevent other materials from bonding to surfaces) for custom molds, dirt-repellent coatings for machinery, and cables for CPUs. It was also asked to add increased functionality to complex state-of-the-art machinery such as high-end medical equipment and high-grade lenses, by coating them to make them dust and dirt-resistant. Later this year, a CS1 product for automobiles, developed together with a major trading house, is set to go on the market.
In the near term, Kimijima’s goals include finding ways to increase the strength of materials, finding new enhanced hydrophilic solutions and completing the development of a solar panel utilizing titanium oxide film-forming technology. The base research for this last project has already been completed, and Kimijima, who is known for his toughness in seeing things through, is firmly set on finishing it.
Looking forward, while Kimijima personally hopes to keep one foot rooted in research, he is also constantly looking for new business opportunities that can help support such research.
For example, the firm currently produces coating products for glass, but it is looking to expand into the field of glass material production. By the end of the year, it plans to set up a factory in Sri Lanka to manufacture high-purity silica, a material used in making glass. Silica ore is found in abundance in Sri Lanka, but the country had been lacking in high-end silica refining technology. Thus, NAZCA also hopes to form an alliance with a local partner to help develop a strong local refining industry. Of course, it plans to use its own coating technology at the factory, in order to prevent contamination during the production process.
Kimijima’s scientific mindset and his training as a chef keep him constantly full of unique ideas. His approach to technology is quite similar to his approach to creating a new recipe; he tries to find a way to increase the functionality of various materials, which is like drawing out the best from all food ingredients, in order to create a superb and superior product, be it a delicate and intricate dish, or an innovative technological solution. (End.)