New self-healing textiles neutralise chemicals

New self-healing textiles can neutralise chemicals

10:49 AM, 29th July 2016
New self-healing textiles can neutralise chemicals
From left, fabric with hole, wet fabric and patch in a drop of water, self-healed fabric.

UNIVERSITY PARK, US: Someday, chemically protective suits made of fabric coated in self-healing, thin films may prevent farmers from exposure to organophosphate pesticides, soldiers from chemical or biological attacks in the field and factory workers from accidental releases of toxic materials, according to a team of researchers.

"Fashion designers use natural fibres made of proteins like wool or silk that are expensive and they are not self-healing," said Melik Demirel, at Pennsylvania State University. "We were looking for a way to make fabrics self-healing using conventional textiles. So we came up with this coating technology."

The procedure is simple. The material to be coated is dipped in a series of liquids to create layers of material to form a self-healing, polyelectrolyte layer-by-layer coating.

This coating is deposited "under ambient conditions in safe solvents, such as water, at low cost using simple equipment amenable to scale-up," the researchers reported.

The research is published online in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Polyelectrolyte coatings are made up of positively and negatively charged polymers, in this case, polymers like those in squid ring teeth proteins.

During the layering, enzymes can be incorporated into the coating. The researchers used urease -- the enzyme that breaks urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide -- but in commercial use, the coating would be tailored with enzymes matched to the chemical being targeted.

"If you need to use enzymes for biological or chemical effects, you can have an encapsulated enzyme with self-healing properties degrade the toxin before it reaches the skin," said Demirel.

Many toxic substances can be absorbed through the skin. Organophosphates, for example, which is used as herbicides and insecticides are absorbed through the skin and can be lethal. Some of these chemicals have also been used as nerve agents.

A garment coated with a self-healing film containing an organophosphate hydrolase, an enzyme that breaks down the toxic material, could limit exposure. The squid ring teeth polymer is self-healing in the presence of water, so laundering would repair micro and macro defects in the coating, making the garments rewearable and reusable.

For manufacturing environments where hazardous chemicals are necessary, clothing coated with the proper enzyme combination could protect against accidental chemical releases. Future use of these coatings in medical meshes could also help patients minimise infections for quick recovery.

"Also working on this project from Penn State were Srinivas Tadigadapa, professor of electrical engineering; David Gaddes, graduate student in bioengineering; and Huihun Jung and Abdon Pena-Francesch, graduate students in engineering science and mechanics.

Outside the university, Genevieve Dion, assistant professor and director, Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab, Drexel University; and Walter Dressick, US Naval Research Laboratory, Washington DC also worked on the project.

The Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research supported this work.

© Pennsylvania State University News

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