In physics and engineering the word plasma refers to the fourth state of matter (preceded by solid, liquid and gaseous states). This state is reached when enough energy is delivered to a gas and a significant part of its molecules are ionized. Most of the matter in the universe is in this state and examples of it are the stars, the sun, the northern lights or the lightning bolts. In general, plasmas are usually very hot, in fact they are used in industrial applications to cut metals because they can reach temperatures above 2000 degrees. In addition, plasmas have a common characteristic: light emission. This ability to emit light alowed them to be used in many industrial applications such as neon lights or plasma screens.
In recent years, there has been a growing worldwide interest in the generation of cold atmospheric plasmas, understanding as cold those that, being out of the thermodynamic equilibrium, do not transfer heat and they are, therefore, compatible with living tissues and organic materials with low melting point.
In the last two decades these plasmas have generated great expectation due to the important breakthrough that they will produce in diverse scientific and technological areas. Investigations based on cold atmospheric plasma are undergoing an unprecedented growth due to the increasing number of applications in several industrial fields . The global effort in R&D is reflected in multiple scientific publications (see the scientific references section).
Two of the sectors where these plasmas have generated more expectation are health and food technology. This interest arises from the fact that cold plasmas, by their nature, have the ability to annihilate fungi and bacteria, induce the death of tumor cells and promote wound healing . Several studies indicate that plasma treatment may even inactivate different types of viruses .
Air plasma torch developed at ION BIOTEC
The capacities described above are, in appearance, very different from each other, however, they are all arise from the same characteristics of this kind of plasma: its high concentration of Reactive Oxygen and Nitrogen Species (RONS). If the plasma is produced by ionizing air it reaches a large concentration of these species; however, air is one of the most difficult gases to convert into plasma.
The large amount of oxygen in the air is, at the same time, its most attractive feature for the production of cold plasma (for sanitary applications) and its main difficulty. To ionize oxygen and, therefore, air, a large amount of energy is required and, in general, this results in very high temperatures of the produced plasma.
ION BIOTEC has therefore achieved a double technological challenge: to generate air plasma in a controlled and reliable way and to do it at a low temperature.