Nanosupermen in the Czech Republic #1: From a sport teacher to an expert in inorganic nanofibers
When Jan Buk, the COO of PARDAM company, starts to speak about inorganic nanofibers, you wouldn’t say he once was a sports teacher who came across nanotechnologies just by sheer coincidence. That coincidence lent a hand in building a company in Roudnice nad Labem, which has no parallel worldwide. Their nanofibers are the most significant part of a separator of a revolutionary Czech 3D battery and last year they received the Visionary award for their food-product filtration membrane.
Today they want to make a breakthrough with another product – nanofibrous respirator which is capable to filtrate even the smallest bacteria and viruses. Read about how a sports teacher became the expert in inorganic nanofibers.
Nine years ago, he knew nothing about nanotechnologies, today he has visits from around the world
“Nine years ago, I knew nothing whatsoever about nanotechnologies”, laughs Buk. After finishing a high school, he started to attend the Czech Technical University in Prague but he quit after one year and left for England where he spent two years working as an Au Pair.
After his return back to the Czech Republic, he opened a pub and started to teach English at a high school. His pub business lasted only six months, he was committed to teaching for eight years. He graduated from the Faculty of Physical Training and Sports of Charles University and found the Football Farm football center at a high school.
“A friend of mine, who I had met in England, had tried to persuade me back then to start doing projects in the Czech television.” Eventually, following two years of persuasion, he indeed begun to work in the Czech television and even took part in the inception of iBroadcasting or live streaming of Football league matches.
The journey to success was longer than expected
However, in 2009 he was given an interesting offer that introduced the world of nanotechnologies to him for the first time. The project he joined, was called Kertak Nanotechnology and its goal was to produce inorganic nanofibers.
“At that time, the CT environment was already beginning to feel quite undynamic to me, so I took it as a challenge. And today I’m the only member of the original team who has kept doing it”, admits Jan Buk. Back then, he calculated with the idea of buying the machines, starting production and the fact that his only task would be marketing and sales. But at this he was mistaken.
Their nanofibers play the key role in a 3D battery
“Soon we found out that the nanotechnology was not optimized and that there was actually no market for inorganic nanofibers here.” Nevertheless, Jan Buk refused to give up as he saw a potential in nanofibers. And so, they spent three years merely studying and improving the technology.
Money for development wasn’t easy to obtain for start-up Kertak Nanotechnology, so the only option was to merge with a company with good financial history and move the project under it.
PARDAM served that purpose. Today the company with nine employees has four patents, two pending patent applications, and six final products, but is also engaged in the development of nanofibrous materials and products in accordance with customers’ specifications.
“The separator of HE3DA company’s 3D battery is made from our nanofibers, which has a key function in the battery. Thanks to them it is thermally resistant up to 500 °C and is resistant to mechanical stress. You can drive a nail through the battery and it would still work,” says Buk. He considers now commonly used “plastic” separators to be the main limiting part of batteries.
A common lithium battery is nearly impossible to use in larger blocks because it can be overheated and can cause an explosion. Tesla Motors uses conjoined lithium batteries but must use complicated control systems including cooling. 3D batteries don’t need that, thanks to nanofibers.
Czech company isn’t American company
But the revolution triggered by inorganic nanofibers doesn’t end with the battery, unique catalysts or sorbents for biomedicine are being developed. A significant step forward has been also made by nanofibrous membranes which find their application in swimming-pool filters or in filtration of wine and cooking oils.
“They start to replace cellulose desks, unlike which they don’t leave a bad aftertaste and they can be used repeatedly. Normally, up to 10 % of the product is thrown out, our membranes save this amount,” declares the Czech nanotechnologist.
American partners who visit them in Roudnice nad Labem, are surprised by the range of things they can produce. “And I always tell them: These are the golden Czech hands, boys,” says Buk, who is convinced that if they were an American company, life would be easier for them. As a Czech company with fewer finances, they couldn’t afford to spend money excessively. They had to invest their money carefully and effectively.
Published: 11.4.2018, Author: nanoasociace