An Israeli company wants to put glowing quantum dots in your olive oil
An Israeli company listed on the ASX wants to put tiny quantum dots in consumer goods like olive oil to stop counterfeiting.
Dotz Nano (ASX:DTZ), which has applied for a patent to “tag” liquids such as crude oil, says the technology could one day be used in food and drink as well.
“I drink graphene quantum dots all the time,” said chief executive Dr Moti Gross in an interview with Stockhead.
“It’s true. In order to show people that it’s non-toxic, I put our graphene quantum dots in water and then just swallow it. It’s basically just carbon. I do that in my presentations.
“Maybe I glow when I go to the bathroom, but I’m still here,” he joked.
Quantum dots are tiny particles that emit different colours when irradiated with ultraviolet light. Sony and Samsung both use them in their top-end TVs.
The dots are traditionally made with heavy metals such as cadmium, lead or zinc which make them unsuitable for human contact. Dotz Nano is trying to commercialise a nontoxic type of dot made with graphene instead of metals.
“The biotoxicity and price of quantum dots made like they are today means you can’t use them for other applications, especially any applications which are going to involve human consumption,” said Dr Gross.
“Graphene quantum dots are an alternative to using metal-based quantum dots. Metal-based quantum dots are inorganic. Graphene quantum dots are organic.”
What is graphene?
Graphene was first isolated in 2004 by two scientists at the University of Manchester who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work. However most people have made it themselves, just by using a pencil.
“Have you ever used a yellow number 2 pencil?” asked Dr Gross.
“So you know that you take that pencil and you write with it and the point breaks and you sharpen it and you keep working with it. The core of the pencil is graphite, with a little bit of clay mixed in. If you take that graphite and peel off a layer one atom thick, you get a material called graphene.
“Graphene is the miracle material of the 21st Century. It’s the lightest material known to man. It’s 200 times stronger than steel and it has better conductivity than copper.
“Once you’ve got that graphite, taken off a layer one atom thick and made graphene, if you then take the graphene and take off a corner up to 70 nanometers, you get a graphene quantum dot.”
The problem with that method is that the quantum dots end up with very poor conductivity, and the process is prohibitively wasteful. Only about 2 per cent of the graphene can be turned into dots.
The first issue was solved by Dotz Nano’s research team, which found a way to make graphene quantum dots almost as efficient as traditional dots. How they did it, they say, is a “trade secret”.
The second issue was solved by Professor James Tour of the Marshall Rice University in Texas, who discovered that graphene quantum dots could also be found in coal, and at a much higher rate. About 25 per cent of that material can be turned into dots.
Dotz Nano, based in Israel, licensed Professor Tour’s technology in 2014 and raised $6 million to list on the ASX through a reverse takeover of mining company Northern Iron late last year.
“Our sole purpose in life is to develop and commercialise graphene quantum dots. That’s all we do. That’s why we went public on the ASX,” Dr Gross said.
From crude oil to olive oil
The main markets Dotz Nano is looking at are displays, anti-counterfeiting technology, optical brighteners and research. It’s the potential anti-counterfeiting uses that are most likely to raise eyebrows.
“We’re able to use our graphene quantum dots to develop a specific spectral signature. We do it by controlling a variety of parameters within the specifications of the dots and establishing a specific unique spectral signature for that client and that product line,” said Dr Gross.
“We were approached by a brand protection anti-counterfeiting company saying we heard about your graphene quantum dots and we’d like to know if we can use them in tagging liquids.”
It all began with crude oil, which is notoriously hard to track and can be switched out with lower quality oil while in transit.
“Nobody has ever been able to tag crude oil because of two main problems. One is that oil, crude oil, is black, which quenches any light coming in,” said Dr Gross.
“Two is that even if you take a crude oil sample to a spectrometer, which measures the fluorescence of the spectrum of the material, the crude oil has its own fluorescence which covers the fluorescence of tags.”
Dr Gross’s research team believes it has solved both of those problems. In June the company announced it had filed for a new US patent to tag liquids with their dots.
According to Dr Gross, the next step after crude oil could be consumable liquids such as olive oil.
“We have already done safety testing. There has been a lot of research on graphene quantum dots and their toxicity, showing that they are non-toxic at all (in a normal environment at the appropriate levels),” Dr Gross said.
“In essence, graphene quantum dots are just like carbon, generally regarded as safe. It’s basically trace elements. However we would need to get the appropriate regulatory approvals.”
Dr Gross said the company was in the process of applying for those approvals.
Dotz Nano shares have traded between 12c and 49c in the past 12 months. The company spent $675,000 in the June quarter, leaving $1.2 million in cash, and expects to spend $682,000 in the current quarter.
In July, Dotz Nano announced it would raise another $1.5 million by issuing 12.5 million shares to sophisticated investors, which would also allow it to access cost-sharing grant funding of about $2 million over 18 months.
The grant funding is expected to come from the US-Israel Binational Research and Development Foundation, the Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel and the Israeli Ministry of Economy.
This article does not constitute financial product advice. You should consider obtaining independent advice before making any financial decisions.