For a chemical, chlorine dioxide (ClO2) has an intriguing history. It was discovered during the Napoleonic Wars, then forgotten and rediscovered for its potent effects as a bleach, oxidizer and disinfectant. It’s the gold standard of disinfection, but it is used rarely and only under special conditions.
According to Ian Knapp, CEO of RelīOx, it has become the “disinfectant of last resort” for a variety of reasons. In an antimicrobial capacity, it is 25 more times powerful than bleach, but it can only be generated when needed, can’t be transported and is typically mixed in a “horrific” process using other dangerous chemicals.
Currently, ClO2 is used in municipal water treatment and to bleach wood pulp for the paper industry. Since it must be produced on-site using hydrochloric acid and chlorine gas and is extremely difficult to transport, its use is limited to industrial scale operations.
Based on technology already common to the water treatment industry, Knapp says RelīOx has developed a way to bring the chemical from “last resort” to the first choice in disinfectants for janitorial and healthcare sanitation, water treatment and even fighting foodborne pathogens.
“This compound would be the chemical of choice for any cleaning interaction if it were readily available and easy to use,” Knapp said. “Big industry uses it, but small industry runs away from it. With the advent of MRSA, foodborne pathogens – like in cantaloupes – that are killing people, chlorine dioxide has become the chemical that people wish they could use to rid themselves of pathogens.”
Using research from the University of Florida, RelīOx has developed a solution for the production and transport of ClO2 that will allow it to be created safely for any cleaning interaction, from the kitchen to the water treatment facility.
“Our market is truly global, anywhere people go,” Knapp said. “Think about the inside of an airplane or a cruise ship. This product is far better than what is currently being used. It’s been tried, and what has failed is the delivery mechanism – that’s where we are better.”
The process uses special plastic resin beads – like those used to demineralize water in household water softeners – to safely convert sodium chlorite (an easily transportable precursor to chlorine dioxide) to the ClO2 wherever it is needed, and in any concentration.
RelīOx technology officer Phil Wagner compared the process to making coffee, exchanging the RelīOx beads for ground beans and a potent cleaning agent for coffee. The beads can be stored on the shelf or shipped via FedEx, solving the chemical’s storage and transportation challenges.
Knapp said their product offers consumers the flexibility that has never been offered before since it can be produced at any concentration and volume. With little variation, Knapp said the chemical could be produced to clean anything from chicken carcasses to the countertop.
“Nothing is resistant, and it kills microbes and viruses at very low concentrations that are not harmful to people,” Knapp said. “Once it has been used, it breaks down under normal light so it is no longer harmful at all. It does its job and disappears.”
As a disinfectant, ClO2 is superior in its microbial kill rate and in its safety to use in small concentrations. To kill microbes to an undetectable level, you would need only 58 parts per million for ClO2, compared to 30,000 per million for hydrogen peroxide.
The company is currently in the evaluation phase before registering the product with the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies, but Knapp feels the company is prepared to move quickly once the product is approved.
“That was one thing we recognized from the beginning, looking at the technology,” he said. “We thought ‘This is too simple; we can go to market almost immediately.’ There are no hindrances to getting to market, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel for anything.”
RelīOx was named to the Cade Prize Final Four on April 23, one of two Gainesville companies to make the cut. The Cade Prize winner will be announced May 11 at the Cade Prize Night gala. Look for more Cade profiles coming soon