We believe that the meaning of “smart antimicrobial” is clear enough to devise a classification of these materials and an analysis of the opportunities for different kinds of smart antimicrobials. We do this is below. Here we profile the several classes of smart antimicrobials that are currently commercialized or in development, along with the opportunities that stem from them.
It is worth noting that when the smart antimicrobials are talked about, what is often actually meant is peptides, which seem to be truly smart by virtue of their ability to selectively kill microbes. However, peptides are not likely to be used that often for antimicrobial surfaces because they are potentially costly and are not a mature technology.
At the other end of the scale are silver preparations that are widely used but not often thought of as smart—but should be, because of their inherent time-release and self-assembly capabilities. In any case, we think that the trend will be towards more smartness in smart materials including smart materials. In the context of smart antimicrobials, that probably means combining them with self-cleaning and self-healing layers.
Also, the role of nanotechnology cannot be ignored when considering the commercial potential of smart antimicrobials. In some cases, nanotechnology is specifically brought to bear to make a smart antimicrobial more powerful; nanosilver is the most obvious example here. Nanomaterial-based antimicrobials also provide potential significant competition to smart antimicrobials. Some examples of where this happens includes organosilane, chitosans, and black silicon.