Surface engineering and biotransformation

The use of laser and plasma technology for biotransformed surfaces

Laser and plasma techniques are well researched processes that find wide application in industrial surface treatment in order to clean surfaces or to selectively provide them with properties and functions. These techniques can also be used to engage a biological transformation of production processes and manufacturing methods. In concrete terms, this means that living systems are integrated into technical systems in order to optimize them, equip them with new functions, and make them more stable in the long term. At Fraunhofer IFAM, research is currently being carried out in various areas into how laser and plasma technologies enable and promote the integration of organisms on surfaces. 


Organisms on surfaces: good or bad?

Organisms colonizing technical surfaces is a well-known phenomenon and can be a problem. The settlement of barnacles or algae on ship hulls or offshore wind turbines, for example, is undesirable and is called fouling. Organisms can cause damage there, such as corrosion, by attacking protective layers. It has also been proven that fouling on ships increases flow resistance, causing ships to consume significantly more fuel. The experts at Fraunhofer IFAM have addressed this problem and developed plasma coatings, which reduce such fouling.

Conversely, however, numerous scenarios are also conceivable, in which the colonization of organisms is expedient and desirable. For example, staying with the example of ship fouling, research has long been underway to determine how micro-organisms can be targeted to ship surfaces to produce a biofilm that acts as a bio-based anti-fouling agent to counteract the settlement of harmful organisms. An even clearer example is osseointegration in medical technology: Here, the dedicated goal is precisely to ensure that implants bond successfully with human tissue.


Creating habitats for protozoa & co. with surface technology

If you want to link technical and biological systems, the surfaces and interfaces play a decisive role. They determine the quality of the interaction between the two worlds. How can surface technology support a successful interaction? Fraunhofer IFAM uses its comprehensive expertise in laser and plasma technologies to integrate living organisms into technical surfaces.

In order for micro-organisms such as unicellular organisms or bacteria to settle on a surface, the right environment must first be established. Using laser technology, we create surface structures that form habitats for single- to few-celled organisms and protect them. Such a structure can also be used to create fine channels with which nutrients can be supplied. Plasma technology is used to modify the surfaces of these habitats in such a way that they are particularly compatible with the existence of the organisms and they can fulfill their task.


From anti-fouling to osseointegration: applications for biofunctionalized surfaces

The targeted structuring and modification of surfaces with laser and plasma technology favors the integration or interaction of living organisms in technical systems and enables these organisms to perform a specific function. Named areas such as shipping and medical technology are already benefiting from our developments. Currently, Fraunhofer IFAM is researching further application areas for such biofunctionalized surfaces. Exemplary areas are:

Shipping and maritime technologies: preventing the unwanted fouling of surfaces or deposits (anti-fouling)
Medical technology:  specifically promoting the ingrowth of implants (osseointegration)
Mechanical and plant engineering: lubrication of systems with organisms that produce slime; filtering of pollutants
Energy technology:  production of methane or hydrogen
Chemical industry: optimize, supplement or replace chemical processes with organic processes; produce starting chemicals

Dr. Ralph Wilken is head of the department "Plasma Technology and Surfaces" at Fraunhofer IFAM. Ralph Wilken and his team of researchers offer comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the use of plasma, laser, and VUV technologies in surface engineering, which they apply in various industries for bio-transformation in value-added processes.