Laser cladding of stainless steel with a copper-silver alloy to generate surfaces of high antimicrobial activity

Copper and silver are used as antimicrobial agents in the healthcare sector in an effort to curb infections caused by bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. While the bactericidal potential of copper and silver alone are well documented, not much is known about the antimicrobial properties of copper–silver alloys. This study focuses on the antibacterial activity and material aspects of a copper–silver model alloy with 10 wt% Ag. The alloy was generated as a coating with controlled intermixing of copper and silver on stainless steel by a laser cladding process. The microstructure of the clad was found to be two-phased and in thermal equilibrium with minor Cu2O inclusions. Ion release and killing of Escherichia coli under wet conditions were assessed with the alloy, pure silver, pure copper and stainless steel. It was found that the copper–silver alloy, compared to the pure elements, exhibited enhanced killing of E. coli, which correlated with an up to 28-fold increased release of copper ions. The results show that laser cladding with copper and silver allows the generation of surfaces with enhanced antimicrobial properties. The process is particularly attractive since it can be applied to existing surfaces.