When Jan Buk, director of Pardam, starts talking about inorganic nanofibers, you would not even think that he is a former PE teacher who works in the nanotechnology domain just by sheer coincidence.
And the coincidence made it happen that there is a company in the town of Roudnice nad Labem that is like no other in the world. Their nanofibers are the most important component of the separator of the revolutionary Czech 3D accumulator, and they won the Visionary Award for their filtration membrane for food products last year.
These days, they are about to make a breakthrough with another product, a nanofiber respirator capable of capturing even the tiniest bacteria and viruses. Here is the story how a PE teacher became an expert in inorganic nanofibers.
Nine years ago, he knew nothing about nanotechnologies, today he presents them to visitors from all over the world
“Nine years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about nanotechnology,” Buk laughs. After the secondary school, he entered the Czech Technical University, but after one year he left for the UK to work as an au-pair for two years.
Having returned to the Czech Republic, he rented a pub and started teaching English at a secondary school. He only ran the pub for half a year but kept teaching for eight years. He also graduated from the Faculty of Sports and founded a secondary school football centre – Football Farm.
A friend I met in England was talking me into doing projects for Czech Television.” After two years of persuasion, he actually started working for the television, helping to launch internet broadcasting and live streaming football league matches.
The road to success took longer than expected
In 2009, he received an interesting offer that introduced him to the world of nanotechnology. The project he joined was named Kertak Nanotechnology and the plan was to produce inorganic nanofibers.
“At that time, the environment of Czech Television was not dynamic enough for me anymore, so I approached the offer as a challenge. And today, I am the only one of the original team who endured,” Jan Buk admits. Back then, he thought they would buy the equipment, launch production, and that he would only be responsible for marketing and sales. He could not be more wrong.
Their nanofibers are a crucial component of the 3D accumulator
“We soon found out that the technology was not finalised and that the market for inorganic nanofibers was, in fact, non-existent.” Nevertheless, Jan Buk would not give up easily, he saw the potential in nanofibers, and so they spent three years studying and improving the technology.
However, Kertak Nanotechnology as a start-up could not get the funds for research, the only option was to find a business with a financial history and use it as an umbrella of sorts for the project.
And here is where Pardam came into play. Today, the company has nine employees, owns three patents, has filed applications for two more, and offers six end products. It is also involved in development of nanofiber materials and products customised to the requirements of the customer.
“The separator of the 3D accumulator by HE3DA is made of our nanofibers. That is why the accumulator is thermally stable up to 500 °C and mechanically resistant. You can drive a nail through the accumulator, and it will still work,” Buk claims and adds that the commonly used “plastic” separators are the main limiting factor of the current accumulators.
Common lithium accumulators are almost useless in large packs as they may overheat and explode. Tesla Motors uses modular lithium accumulator packs, but they require complicated management and cooling systems. The 3D accumulator does not need any of that – also thanks to the nanofibers.
Czech Republic is not America
The revolution initiated by inorganic nanofibers is by no means limited to the accumulator; the development is focused on unique catalysers or sorbents for biomedicine, major progress has been achieved thanks to nanofiber membranes used in swimming pool filters or in filtration of wine and oil.
“They replace the commonly used cellulose plates. Unlike those plates, nanofiber membranes do not leave any aftertaste and can be used repeatedly. The common waste rate is 10% and this is eliminated by our membranes,” the Czech nanotechnology expert claims.
When their US partners come to visit, they are surprised by what the people in Roudnice nad Labem are capable of. “And I always tell them: ‘You know, guys, it’s the golden Czech hands’,” says Buk who believes that if they a were a US company, things would be easier for them. As a Czech business with limited funds, they could not spend needlessly, but had to invest cautiously and effectively.
By Lucie Kůsová Časopis Plus
Video and photo: Lucie Kůsová for Czech Nanotechnology Industries Association with financial support by Moneta.cz