Techno-Entrepreneur Marcia Sampson
Her Flexible Tubing has a Silver Lining!
Marcia Sampson is president of Eldon James Corporation, a Loveland, Colorado-based tubing manufacturer responsible for the development of Flexelene® - a flexible polyethylene tubing popular with research laboratories and biotechnology firms. In 2003, the company began developing a means to line the inner surface of their tubing with silver - a metal imbued with antimicrobial properties. The result is a new line of flexible tubing, Flexelene Silver, which has been shown to inhibit the growth of bacteria and prevent its buildup in the line - an ideal product for such industries as food & beverage and water quality.
ColeParmer.com: Why is Flexelene tubing so popular?
Marcia Sampson: For one thing, it's very low on extractables - it doesn't add anything to the flow path that could impart a taste or sku test results if it's being used in a laboratory. Plus, it's flexible. Most of the polyethylene tubing available on the market is very rigid and rather challenging to work with - you're forced to use expensive compression or push-on type fittings. With a flexible polyethylene, you can simply bend it around corners and eliminate the need for extra fittings. Also, it works very well with our barbed fittings, so there is an overall cost savings to the customer.
ColeParmer.com: Is that why Coors likes it so well?
Sampson: Those were some of the benefits Coors likes. It also offers low-temperature flexibility - which is important to them because they run tubing inside beer coolers. If the tubing becomes brittle at low temperatures it could crack and possibly leak. But our tubing performs very well at low temperatures.
ColeParmer.com: The same is true for Flexelene Silver?
ColeParmer.com: What exactly is Flexelene Silver?
Sampson: It is simply our Flexelene tubing, but with a lining made of silver which is an active inhibitor for the growth of bacteria.
ColeParmer.com: How does it work?
Sampson: At the chemical level, there is an ion exchange between the sodium found in water or beer, and the silver that coats the interior wall of the tubing. This effects any bacteria that might be present in three ways. First, it chokes off the oxygen - which is important to killing off bacteria that can't grow without oxygen. Second, it attacks the bacteria's cell wall which, if penetrated or weakened, effects the ability of the bacteria to multiply. And third, it negatively effects the metabolism of the bacteria, so that it just does not function as well.
ColeParmer.com: How well does the tubing perform in tests?
Sampson: Extremely well. For example, not all bacteria require oxygen to grow, so we tested against Lactobacillus brevis, which is an anaerobic bacteria known to be a beer spoiler because it causes beer to have an off taste and a bad smell. We were very pleasantly surprised to find we had a three-log reduction against that bacteria - which is a very acceptable efficacy rate. The tubing had a five-log efficacy rate against most other bacteria.
ColeParmer.com: What exactly is a three-log reduction?
Sampson: That equates to 99.9% effective, which is very impressive. Five-log is 99.999%. We were pretty tickled. And that's where the benefits come into play with the beer industry, because they have to clean their beer lines weekly or every other week, and they have to use harsh acids - which means there's liability involved, and lost product, and they're having to pay someone to clean the lines. Coors has not yet determined how long they can extend the cleaning cycle by using our tubing, but they know we are at very least going to have a direct impact on improving the quality of their beer.
ColeParmer.com: What other markets might this be effective in?
Sampson: We just got back from Amsterdam where we showed at the Aquatech trade show - a worldwide show for water technologies like water filtration, etc. We visited with people from over 17 countries who were very excited by our tubing. You may not realize it, but biofilm develops very quickly in drinking water. We met with people who are building Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems, and they still can have bacterial growth in the tubing even after the water's been filtered. So, by not allowing bacterial growth within the tubing, that's just one more clean area that allows quality water to get to the end user.
ColeParmer.com: Any other markets?
Sampson: We're looking at the beverage industry - particularly at in-store dispensers which process sticky syrups like colas, that tend to grow organisms quickly. We estimate that if installed in a dispensing system in a quickie mart-type store, Flexelene Silver should remain effective for at least two years. There's no active ingredient in the current product they use, so it would be a great application for that. Also for dairy products.
ColeParmer.com: What is the life span of Flexelene Silver? For how long does it remain effective?
Sampson: We looked at this in terms of water usage in a household RO system. A typical household will run 40,000 liters of water through a system over a five-year period. So, we tested to 40,000 liters and found we could have run our test a lot longer - we still had 20 parts per billion of silver remaining in the tubing at the end of that test and it only takes two parts per billion of silver to inhibit the growth of E-coli. Again, we were pretty tickled.
ColeParmer.com: You must be very excited to be marketing such a versatile product.
Sampson: Oh, it is very exciting. There is nothing else out there at this point. And every time a new potential customer tests the product and reports back, it opens a new market!