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Nonwovens / Technical Textiles

Cotton, Other Natural Fibers Find Uses In Decontamination, Chemical-Resistant Textiles

Natural-fiber textiles that protect against chemical and biological contamination are in development at Lubbock, Texas-based Texas Tech University's Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) and Raleigh, N.C.-based North Carolina State University's (NCSU's) College of Textiles.

A needlepunched composite cotton decontamination wipe developed by TIEHH researchers led by Seshadri Ramkumar, Ph.D., is now marketed under TIEHH license by Waco, Texas-based Hobbs Bonded Fibers. The wipe, which neutralizes toxic chemicals, pesticides and biological agents, comprises a thin layer of carbon enclosed between two layers of needlepunched nonwoven cotton fabric. Funding for the research was provided by the US Department of Defense, Cotton Incorporated, the Texas Food and Fibers Commission and the Cotton Foundation.

"[T]he use of cotton [in decontamination wipes] has opened up a new [market area] for cotton," Ramkumar said, stressing opportunities now available to the US textile industry, especially the cotton sector. "The technology has potential military, homeland security and medical uses."

At NCSU, Juan Hinestroza, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of textile engineering, chemistry and science, has developed a method that uses electrostatic force to attach nanolayers of chemical-resistant and antimicrobial agents to natural fibers. Possible applications include protective clothing, antibacterial sheets, and drug-delivering gloves and tissues. The research is funded by the Institute of Textile Technology, NCSU nanotechnology steering committee, US Department of Homeland Security and National Science Foundation.

"These layers are customized for different chemicals," Hinestroza said. "We can specifically block warfare agents or industrial chemicals, while still allowing air and moisture to pass through [the fabric]."

July/August 2005