The study at University College London Hospital, revealed that dry steam applied at temperatures ranging from 150 to 180 C could kill bacteria in less than two minutes, without the use of chemicals.
The new technology, devised by scientists at UK firm Oxford Catalysts, employs a precious metal catalyst to generate the steam at temperatures up to 800 C in just a couple of seconds, at room temperature and pressure. Steam produced by the technology is so-called 'dry' steam, generated by the highly exothermic reaction between methanol and hydrogen peroxide.
While too expensive to replace the vast quantities of steam used routinely by industry, a reaction chamber the size of a sugar cube can pump steam at a rate of 7L/minute at temperatures up to 800 C.
'The value of instant steam lies in creating truly portable steam that can be generated intermittently on demand,' said Dave Wardle, business development director at Oxford Catalysts.
The first application is likely to be a GumBuster backpack for removing chewing gum from pavements and other surfaces. The patented GumBuster technology currently requires a minimum of 3kW of electrical power to generate the steam used by each operator and relies on generators carried on trolleys or vans.
"(The technology) will make the system more portable and make it possible to place the steam when we need it, where we need it,' said Thomas Stuecken, chief commercial officer at Proventec, the parent company of OspreyDeepclean.
Other more speculative applications for the steam for powering rockets and cars, and to provide mobile and portable power generation, are currently being considered.
The study is published in Chemistry and Industry, the magazine of the SCI.