Joined: 16 Mar 2004
|Posted: Mon Apr 23, 2007 11:40 am Post subject: Self-clean technology
|Self-clean technology to remove the mud, sweat and tears of wash day for ever
by Richard Gray, Science Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Muddy sports kit, the bane of parents with active children, may be heading for the laundry basket of history.
Scientists have produced a coating that could make filthy rugby shirts and grubby football shorts a thing of the past.
The "self-cleaning" process makes fabrics repel water, resist stains and even kill off the bacteria that grow in sweat and make clothes smell. As a result, kit could be worn repeatedly between washes, the distinctive aroma of kit bags gone for ever – even performance on the field could be enhanced.
Scientists working for the US Air Force have already produced T-shirts and underwear that can be worn for weeks at a time without washing, and the technology has now been licensed to a London company, Alexium, to develop for civilian applications.
"We are expecting sportswear to be one of the biggest areas where this technology will be used," said John Almond, a director with Alexium. "We can treat almost any surface to take on a range of different properties that work side by side.
"We are now talking to some major sportswear brands to use this technology, but there are hundreds of other applications we are investigating, from hospital bedding and nurses' uniforms to air conditioning filters on planes and cruise ships."
Sports kits could be in the shops within a year from an agreement being signed, and would add only "a few pounds" to the cost, Mr Almond said.
While it will not quite make the washing machine redundant, treated clothing needs to be washed far less often and is easier to clean when finally laundered.
Details of the technology have been welcomed by athletes. Gary Malmstrom, manager of the London Marathon Store, said that it could help make clothing more comfortable during a marathon. "Anything that can make running 26.2 miles that little bit more comfortable is great news for marathon runners," he said.
The American military developed the new coating in a £14 million research programme over five years. It was initially intended to turn soldiers' ordinary battle dress uniforms into kit that could offer protection in biological warfare. Tests found that the process could kill anthrax and other bacteria used as weapons. Soldiers have also tested treated underwear, wearing garments for several weeks in combat simulations.
Jeff Owens, the scientist at the US Air Force who developed the technology, said: "During Desert Storm most casualties were from bacterial infections rather than from accidents or friendly fire. We have treated T-shirts and underwear for soldiers who tested them for several weeks and found that they remained hygienic as the clothing was actively killing the bacteria. They also helped clear up some skin complaints in those testing them."
The technology uses microwaves to fix microscopic nanoparticles permanently to the fibres of clothing. These nanoparticles can then have a range of chemical properties attached to them to produce a surface impenetrable to water and able to kill bacteria.
Over time, the effectiveness of the coating falls as the active chemicals are knocked off, but the scientists claim it can be restored by soaking the material in a fresh solution of the same chemicals.
Ottilia Saxl, the chief executive of the leading information provider in the field, the Institute of Nanotechnology, in Stirling, said that the treatment could have far wider uses.
"This technology could have many applications, -not just in the leisure industry. The anti-bacterial properties could be of great use for chefs in kitchens and in hospitals where antibiotic resistance is a big problem."
Story first posted: 3rd January 2007.