Sustainable low-temperature plasma technologies for cleaning historical & archaeological artefacts from natural polymers

The objective of the susplart project is to use plasma technology for the treatment of natural polymeric materials and to develop a cost-effective, versatile, environmentally friendly, non-thermal plasma system for cleaning, disinfection and lifetime prolongation of cultural heritage objects.

Protection, conservation and restoration of cultural heritage (CH) objects and artefacts made from natural polymers still represents a huge challenge for both conservators-restorers and scientists due to their high sensitivity to most of the conservation-restoration traditional and recently developed materials and technique. The actual challenge concerning physical-chemical cleaning and biological decontamination is not only to develop new technologies with improved efficiency with respect to traditional ones, but also to provide sustainable tools for mass customized cleaning and decontamination of big collection at risk associated to biological attack, climate change or natural hazards. Such tools should be both compatible with the cultural heritage asset, cost-effective and allowing easy handling. Current interest in plasma use for natural polymeric materials treatment is mainly driven by the availability of new types of equipment generating low-temperature plasma discharge at atmospheric pressure. The effects of low-temperature atmospheric plasma on natural polymeric materials are still not well explored even though it has great potential to become an efficient tool for surface treatment. By producing high frequency electrical discharge, plasma generates an ionized gas that can modify the surface properties of materials for specific purposes. As a cleaning tool plasma could provide many benefits: (i) remove organic contaminants by chemical reaction (O2 or air plasma) and superficial layers by physical ablation (argon plasma) without affecting the bulk properties of the material; (ii) eliminate the use of solvents, storage and disposal of solvent waste problems; (iii) clean surfaces with microscale porosity (leather, parchment) or microchannels (wood) not suitable for solvent cleaning due to surface tension limitations; (iv) remove microbial contaminants; (v) treat complex surface geometries. As a treatment tool, plasma can render surfaces hydrophobic and water/dust repellent, increase/control the affinity of the surface to the dyes, improve the colour quality, increase the uniform distribution of dyes. The project will build on the earlier work carried out by STUBA that focused on technologies for cleaning and protection of paper and wood artefacts, as well as on research performed by INCTDP on parchment, leather and textile degradation and damage assessement. It will benefit from various complementary expertise: plasma technology (Kamea), conservation-restoration (CONREST Expert srl and Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum) and art bookbindery (OSCAR Print srl). The main objective of the SUSPLART project is to study the suitability of plasma technology for the cleaning and treatment of natural polymeric materials such as leather, parchment, wood and textiles and develop a cost-effective, versatile, environmentally friendly, non-thermal plasma system for effective cleaning, disinfection, lifetime prolongation of CH as well as for deliver improved leather for artistic and archival bookbindings, e.g. with high dye affinity and dustrepellent. As such, over the course of a 24 month work plan, the following milestones will be achieved: 1. Identify materials of museum/library collections suitable as model artefacts and preparation of model artefacts of the selected historical materials. Lignocellulosic (paper, wood) and protein (parchment, leather, fur, wool) polymers will be considered. 2. Define the plasma specifications through a co-creation approach with restorers and museum curators and set up different test-rigs to evaluate at lab scale several plasma types and technologies for cleaning, disinfection/sterilization and surface activation. 3. Set up protocols to evaluate surface physicalchemical modifications induced by plasma at lab scale and for field tests and provide a list of markers sensitive to plasma treatment together with their threshold limit values (TLVs) beyond which a property modification is no longer acceptable for a specific material. 4. Determine optimal plasma treatment conditions and compare different plasma types (e.g DBD, ADRE, torch/jet) to obtain the required effects on the selected materials. 5. Analyse the plasma treatment long term effects via artificial ageing treatments. 6. Design and build up to two pilot scale SUSPLART modules for the cleaning and surface activation of the selected materials. 7. Technical knowledge transfer and showcase plasma technology productivity, quality enhancing and economic advantages, to facilitate the uptake of the SUSPLART results by CH professionals. 8. Implementation of a communication campaign to reach the targeted stakeholders and to ensure wide dissemination of the project results. Co-financing on the side of STUBA and Kamea will be ensured by means of project participant’s salaries paid from their own resources. Co-financing of the Romanian partners will be ensured by the contributions of CONREST Expert srl and Oscar Print srl.
Project ID: 
9 975
Start date: 
Project Duration: 
Project costs: 
440 000.00€
Technological Area: 
Cleaning Technology
Market Area: 

Raising the productivity and competitiveness of European businesses through technology. Boosting national economies on the international market, and strengthening the basis for sustainable prosperity and employment.