Finalist GERMii: Reinventing the deep clean

Rachael Bolton

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, or so the saying goes. Although chief executive and founder of GERMii, Harold Van Haltren, would be quick to point out that it’s not actually a disinfectant, it’s a sterilizer.

GERMii is a finalist in the MedTech and BioTechnology category of the inaugural InnovationAus 2021 Awards for Excellence. The category is sponsored by the Digital Health CRC.

Disinfection is a process that removes most pathogens; sterilization kills everything on a surface: a clean to operating theatre standards. And never has the appeal of rendering public surfaces free from all pathogens been more desirable than in the last two years.

Harold Van Haltren
GERMii chief executive Harold Van Haltren

There have been numerous articles discussing the meaning and efficacy of ‘deep cleaning’ practices in locations that have been exposed to COVID infections. It might leave you wondering: how clean is clean?

The reality is, traditional pathogen elimination requires special training, meticulous cleaning practices and litres upon litres of noxious chemical disinfectants.

Even after you have mopped down all hard surfaces, you still have to deal with soft furnishings and upholstery: curtains, carpets, chairs, lounges and beds.

When the pandemic struck early last year, Mr Van Haltren was already chief executive of Scirocco Technologies working in commercial spaces like fishing fleets, using ultraviolet light to sterilize the surfaces inside the vessels where sashimi fish are hauled.

To be appropriate for raw consumption, fishes bound for sashimi preparation must be free of contaminants, including commercial antiseptics.

“If we can sterilize a tuna boat at sea, we can sterilize an office,” Mr Van Haltren says.

The science of cleaning is actually really interesting. A basic cleaning product like a spray and wipe, for example, is designed to help release unwanted particles from the surface but it’s the scrubbing and wiping that removes the germs – they don’t kill anything.

The next level up would be a disinfectant liquid like bleach or alcohol. These do kill bacteria and viruses by attacking the proteins that hold the cell walls up, basically making the cells of the organism collapse on itself.

The issue with this is that a) they have to be left as a liquid on the surface for a period of time to do their job, sometimes up to 10 minutes; b) they are often pretty hostile to the environment they are used in – imagine what prolonged contact with bleach is going to do to your office chairs or carpets; c) they’re not good for the environment, getting into the water system when they are rinsed down the sink and manufactured and stored in unrecyclable heavy plastics.

They’re also not very pleasant for humans who then want to live and work in those spaces afterwards.

The GERMii alternative specifically uses UV-C light that only needs to be concentrated on a surface for a matter of seconds to kill pathogens on any surface, soft or hard.

In addition to a portable wand version that can be used in any setting from office cleaning to hospitality, GERMii makes light box chambers where items can be placed inside and rapidly sterilized.

The UV light kills cells by damaging their DNA (or RNA in the case of viruses). It’s the same reason we’re all told to “slip slop slap” in the summertime.

Exposure to specific light frequencies makes some of the building blocks of our DNA glue together in the wrong way which causes cell death (or in the case of humans, sometimes skin cancer).

The advantages of using a light-based product to sterilize are: it’s very fast, sterilizing any surface in seconds; it has no negative environmental impacts; it’s easy to use, anyone can be trained do it; it can be used on any surface, regardless of texture.

The light is also safe – you get more UV exposure from a salon manicure than from a GERMii GIL wand.

The company has been working to retrofit commercial air-conditioning systems with their tech to sterilize the air in office buildings, sports complexes, and aircraft.

They recently signed a three-year synergy agreement with the major commercial real estate firm JLL to retrofit their Australian office buildings in the hopes this will help people come back to work more safely.

They also have a relationship with the Softbank Robotics where GERMii tech has been fitted to the Whiz commercial-grade vacuum robot in a manner that directs the UV-C light to sterilize both hard floors and carpets and to agitate and sterilize air in the robot’s proximity.

GERMii general manager Stuart Munro points out that air purification via traditional HEPA filter devices doesn’t actually kill the germs or bacteria it traps.

In this case the air is sterilized and then sucked through a HEPA filter and circulated back out, actually destroying the pathogens rather than trapping them to potentially breed inside the filter.

Beyond the obvious pandemic applications, Mr Van Haltren sees a role for GERMii products in ongoing, more mundane infection control. “I like to call them the family favourites,” he says.

“The common cold, influenza, gastro, in lunchrooms and cafes, in offices, schools, aged accommodation. Gastro in an aged care home is lethal. These are all things that can be dealt with by our products.”

GERMii devices are already making forays into the childcare space.

“We have just sold to our first childcare centre here in WA,” explains Munro. “We shipped a handheld demo unit to them and said ‘keep it for a couple of weeks.’ Two days into the test period the owner called and said: ‘Right, when can I place my order?’

“They’d experienced a gastro outbreak and all these kids had been vomiting everywhere. To clean and sterilize after an event like that would normally have taken a whole day. They used the GERMii lamp instead. All the books, the fluffy toys, curtains, pillows, everything, they sterilized it all in 30 minutes.”

The company envisages a not-so-distant future where a domestic device will be available for use in homes.

GERMii is a finalist in the MedTech and BioTechnology category for the upcoming InnovationAus Awards for Excellence 2021, sponsored by the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre. You can reserve your seat for the gala dinner on December 1 by clicking here.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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