Nanoksi Finland coated all touchable surfaces of the Finnish pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai with their patented innovation two days prior to the grand opening of the world expo. Piretta Saurama was there to see how Finnish nanotechnology protects the visitors against all unwelcomed germs, not the least the coronavirus. While at it, it was interesting to learn more about the company itself and photonics – and this is how the story goes.

Piretta Saurama is a freelance reporter based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She is curious and likes to write about the unusual.

I came to Dubai from my current city of residence Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. On the way, many of the local radio stations played the official Expo anthem “This Is Our Time” – and I suppose that is very true. Many big events have been postponed from last year to this year or some even beyond. But now is our time. The country gets all the attention it desires and the local culture responds to it with warm hospitality. I was intrigued by this opportunity because I had already read about Nanoksi’s world conquering in few newspapers. Inside the Finnish pavilion I was welcomed by Nanoksi’s Installation Manager Mikko Kaijanen and Director of Global Affairs Katja Boutou.

“We have a dream. A dream of a world where people are healthier and happier. Where we can move around more safely in all types of spaces. Breathe cleaner indoor air. Touch surfaces with less worry. Our mission is to make the world a safer place, one surface at a time. We have some real superpowers helping us along the way: Finnish know-how and nanotechnology.” Nanoksi Finland

And that’s how the thought came about

“At first it was only a thought of surfaces that reject dirt. Nanotechnology was nothing new in physics nor cleaning. Based on this technology, the physicists in a laboratory in Finland started to develop a nanocoating solution together with universities and commercial research institutes. Dirt-repellent solutions saw daylight, and a company called Nanoksi Finland was established”, begins Kaijanen.

This happened in 2017. The developed method proved to work as they had hoped, and they were in business. However, the company was not alone in the field, therefore they did not settle only for the surfaces to repel dirt. “We wanted to create a coating solution that also destroys viruses, bacteria, mould spores and other volatile organic compounds”, Kaijanen continues.

Idea bright like a light

I learned that photocatalysis – any chemical reaction caused by light – as a phenomenon is nothing new either, and when it was simply put, it was easy to comprehend even without any background in physics. The team at Nanoksi started to look deeper into the potentials of this technology. They collaborated with University of Tampere in Finland, and it didn’t take them long to invent Fotonit®, new generation photocatalytic coating solution that activates once exposed to light. Room light or even candle light will trigger off the reaction. I’m still following but then I really had to tune my ears: they add little particles called harvesters into the titanium dioxide which is the base of the coating solution. The harvesters enable a so called plasmonic resonance in basically any light’s wavelength. And there the eureka was! As a result Nanoksi’s subsidiary, Plasmonics, was founded and they are responsible for the product development.

“The unique innovation was not a “garage” one but rather a by-product of an other work in progress – it was almost like an accident”, says Kaijanen. Nevertheless, it was first of its kind and therefore very quickly patented.

In the pavilion, it’s time for less talking and more action: Nanoksi team ought to get to work because the area that is to be coated is vast. Let’s see what this is all about.

Nanoshower time

Mikko Kaijanen is responsible for the pavilion coating work. He pushes out a trolley that has a black electric device that weighs about ten kilograms and looks rather simple. I’m not sure if it is though. Not silent for sure but does not hurt the ears either. The device is on sale in the market but the company has modified it to meet its needs and requirements. On the top part of the device, there’s a two litre liquid container that has a black hose of few metres that ends in a manual shower gun attached to it. The shower that comes out of it is rigorously specified. Droplet size, that is almost like mist, is extremely relevant for the coating to work. Fotonit® is scentless, tasteless and 100% non-toxic liquid. Titanium dioxide is an approved additive in food industry and it can be found in toothpaste for example. “Or if you have eaten ice cream today, you have eaten titanium dioxide”, Kaijanen tells me. Who would have thought?

He has just convinced me that the product is scentless, tasteless, non-toxic, safe and what have you, but in the corner of my eye, I can see that he is about to dress himself in a disposable PPE overall and a breathing mask. Hold on! This was supposed to be completely harmless!? “And so it is”, he reassures me and continues “the liquid, that is sprayed, is so fine and when the chemical reaction does happen, it releases water and carbon dioxide. If the area that is being sprayed is vast, I will get wet. In addition breathing fine mist will in due course start to be uncomfortable.”

It is safe to watch the process close by, even without PPE.

Boutou grabs a cloth and I am now in between her and Kaijanen as we make our way through the pavilion. The surfaces need to be wiped off from any loose dirt. After this a thin layer of coating is sprayed on the surfaces and the nanoparticles start to find their way to all uneven areas of the surface. If only the naked eye could see this happening – because it sounds like a nanoparticle race, I’m thinking. The coating activates once light, oxygen and water vapor are all present. It takes 24 – 48 hours for the coating to form in full. The coating is invisible, flexible and breathable, and lasts for a year. This is the company’s promise. It does not wear off in use and the surface does not require any antimicrobial cleaning because the coating is already doing that non-stop.

Fotonit® was here – and there

Nanoksi expect the world expo to boost their business although they are not an official exhibitor at the Finnish pavilion. “We are here as a secret protector”, says Boutou while she moves on with the cloth. In Dubai the company is already on stepping stones. They have coated all touch surfaces at Dubai International Airport, which is the third busiest airport in the world. Recently the company signed off a commercial agreement with Emirates Airlines and dnata in the UAE. Nanoksi won the international Aviation X Lab Accelerate competition 2021. The Finnish nanotechnology know-how was brought in the international spotlight again, and this is a merit for Nanoksi to be proud of.

As their signature, they leave a Fotonit® sticker wherever possible. The sticker tells that surfaces are protected by an antimicrobial coating. At the moment Fotonit® stickers can be found in number of places in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, UK, France, Ukraine and UAE. “After Expo 2020 Dubai we will focus on Spain and two grand powers: the United States and Australia”, says Boutou, at the same time revealing her near-future plans. Goes without saying that the market is large – where there are people, there are harmful germs.

Handcrafted product

According to Mikko Kaijanen, the product is “valuable” but price-wise realistic. When he says valuable, what does it mean exactly? “It’s a unique innovation, there is nothing like this elsewhere. The product is still handmade in a laboratory at the University of Tampere”. That said, both private and public sectors can afford the coating treatment when the need arises. The product is stored in 25 litre containers and can be stored for at least six months, which hardly ever happens. The coating solution is safe and easy to ship by courier to wherever needed at any given time. It crosses country borders without problems because of titanium dioxide’s classification as a food additive.

Nanoksi considers themselves as a start-up company although they have come quite far in a short period of time. Fotonit® is only a year old but making the headlines, and signature stickers are going up. They have the patience to grow. “We have no debt, no investors, we live on what we make”, says Boutou.

Proven effectiveness

We are approaching the last surfaces of the pavilion and I can’t refrain from asking whether there are ever any doubters? “You would not believe!” admits Boutou. Nanoksi is often in a situation where the effectiveness or features of the coating solution are questioned. The company saw this coming and they were prepared for it when the innovation was launched. “To a new customer or even an existing one, we are able to prove the effectiveness and reliability of the product with a simple lab swab. We have a small kit – a first-aid-kit look alike kit – that has everything needed in order to perform the quick test. We are able to prove that two days after the coating has been applied, the surface is 98% covered, protected and giving a low microbial count. The coating destroys effectively everything organic in combustion”, elaborates Boutou.

As a side comment she adds that “the athlete sweat smell at home disappeared after I coated my children’s ice hockey gear with this solution. Anything that would start to smell, is instantly destroyed.” Impressive. Although everything I have heard, learned and seen – even the invisible – has been impressive. This visit was definitely worth the drive.

It’s already late night in Dubai when I step out of the Finnish pavilion. The night is warm and lights are beautifully lit in Mobility District. The other two expo areas are Opportunity and Sustainability but those have to wait for an other time. There is still plenty of time to come back here, where the world is right now.

Piretta Saurama is a Finnish freelance reporter based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

EXPO 2020 DUBAI 1 October 2021 – 31 March 2022 |