Hard work and vision has taken Kostas Liapis from humble origins in a poor Greek mountain village to success as a global oil trader in the go-go 80’s to using his own money to incubate the next generation of climate and health technologies. Growing up amid the beauty of the mountains of Greece he was always aware of nature and the need to protect it. Today, he is the CEO leading Lion Alternative as it develops technologies like its nano-carbon coatings in partnership with world leading institutions like Imperial College and University Hospital Zurich.
The National Herald: Tell us about yourself.
Kostas Liapis: I grew up in a poor village in Northern Greece at a time when my country was struggling with dictatorship and the aftermath of a civil war. I was fortunate enough to make my way to Switzerland and to be given the opportunity to work my way up from the bottom to a successful career in oil trading.
I was always very conscious that our work was contributing to our climate crisis. Because of this, I began using my trading profits to invest in new technologies that I believe can improve the health and climate of future generations.
After several years of nurturing these ideas, we are now about to see the finalization of some of these amazing new technologies.
TNH: What does Diamond-hard nano-carbon coating provide?
KL: Nano-carbon coatings consist of a thin coating of carbon atoms that are applied to an object. Carbon is such an amazingly versatile element that, depending on how you arrange those carbon atoms as you apply them, you can create a coating as hard as diamond or as soft as the graphite in your everyday pencil.
Diamond-hard coatings are particularly attractive because of their high wear and tear resistance, resistance to chemicals and corrosion, and their biocompatibility.
What makes our patented technology unique is that we can apply the coating in a highly controlled way to create a surface coating on objects of any shape.
This means that we can create surfaces that are as hard as a diamond or create surfaces made up of layers of material to give the exact properties that we need.
At a technical level, what our technology is doing is creating high-diamond-phase, laminated, non-recurrable, diamond-phase nano-carbon coatings on complex surfaces.
The peculiarity of our nano-carbon technology is that we can realize the controlled application of multiple carbon phases in a single technological cycle alternating diamond-like (sp³), graphite (sp²), and linear chain carbon (sp1) layers by simply modifying the parameters of the process.
TNH: How are you developing and commercializing it?
KL: Our nano-carbon technology has a wide range of applications in the medical, industrial, aeronautical, automotive, and the emerging hydrogen economy and electric vehicle sectors.
The market potential of our technology is very significant. It has already proven its application in the €6 billion medical implant coatings market. There are also potentially €30 billion in applications in the emerging hydrogen economy, aerospace, and the automotive industries.
In medical applications, the nano-sized diamond-like carbon coating, in comparison with a similar uncoated sample, has higher biocompatibility and better bio-integration in the surrounding connective tissue.
For applications related to electric vehicles, it has advantages. For example, the batteries used in electric cars present a potentially serious fire risk. One of the main advantages of our protective coating is that its corrosion resistance under the action of moisture and atmospheric oxygen can reduce the risk of explosion or fire.
There are also interesting applications in the emerging hydrogen transport economy. Converting existing gas pipelines to transport hydrogen has several issues related to corrosion of the pipes. Applying diamond-hard nano-carbon coatings is an effective way to solve these issues.
We are developing all of these with leading international partners such as the University Hospital of Zurich and Imperial College, the UK’s leading science university. Imperial College is providing us with input on the material science of what we are doing. With the University Hospital of Zurich, we will undertake trials and develop the next generation of heart valves and implants.
In the automotive sector, we have already been lucky enough to secure Fiat-Stellantis as a license partner for our technology once we complete the development.
TNH: What are the plans for Greece?
KL: Like many of my generation, I had to leave Greece for better opportunities, so I understand the human cost for the scientists who left Greece in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
With the help of the Greek Government, we are establishing a research and development center in Greece to reverse the ‘Brain Drain’ of our top human capital.
The center will work on our breakthrough solar thermal and nano-carbon coating technologies. Initially, the center will be staffed by our team of experts in their fields from internationally respected institutions, with granted patents and long histories of academic publications.
With this exceptional base, we can foster links with local and regional universities.
We hope that by providing a leading research environment for nano-carbon coatings we will be establishing Greece as a leader in this field.
TNH: What are the causes of implant failure?
KL: The main problem of medical implantology is the biodegradation of the implanted structure and consequently, its failure. This is the reason that the University Hospital of Zurich is working with us on developing the next generation of implants and heart valves. They believe that diamond-hard nano-carbon coatings could extend a prosthesis’s durability and reduce or even remove the need for anticoagulant therapy.
Another aspect that is often overlooked is that as the body begins to react with the device, small particles of material enter the tissue and bloodstream. These have the potential to create cancer cell formation.
It has been found that the materials traditionally used in implantation – metals and ceramics – are not physiological: they interact with tissue, are transported to other parts of the body, and alter immune responses. Even the most inert of the metals, titanium, is found several months after implantation in the lungs, liver, kidneys, and lymph nodes. A few years after implantation, its content in the contacting tissues increases more than five times.
TNH: Explain to us what Lion Alternative Energy is and its strategic goal.
KL: Our goal is to nurture the next generation of climate and health technologies.
My investments have always been about nurturing the most difficult stage of these technologies, which is when they are still just a concept. It is also the place that has the highest return potential, but it takes time, money, and, most importantly, patience. Our model is to prove that an idea works, develop commercial prototypes, and then license the technology to large manufacturers or end users.
It was always going to be that the scale of our technologies would be larger than my resources and I began organizing Lion Alternative Energy Plc as a way for other investors to support our work on health and climate technologies.
Now that we are about to finalize our first commercial prototypes, we are beginning to introduce our amazing new technologies to investors who have capital that they can commit for the two years until we list Lion.
TNH: Where do you see yourself in the future
KL: I’d like to look back and see that we have contributed to making Greece one of the leading innovators in climate technologies and helping solve some of our health and climate challenges.
I hope Greek patriots worldwide will invest in our technology and make Greece a hub of innovation.