The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » Monthly - August 28, 2015
Nanotechnology
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Smart Textiles with Nanoparticles
   
Textiles that regulate their own temperature, have anti-allergic and antiviral properties and clean themselves—these are the benefits of a research project conducted by Polish scientists and coordinated by the Textile Research Institute from the central city of Łódź.

These unusual, smart textiles can not only be used in clothing, but have a wide variety of potential uses in medicine, construction and defense. “They can be used to make window blinds, strollers for children, wheelchairs for disabled people, tents and radiation shields,” says Małgorzata Cieślak, Ph.D., manager of the Nanomitex project. She adds that the new textiles are an especially good choice for specialized clothing, for example “clothes with bioactive properties useful in medicine, or protective clothing needed wherever there are biological risks or electromagnetic radiation.”

Going nano

In some of the textiles, the scientists used nanofibers and nanoparticles. They have mastered a way of producing these on their own, using a technique known as electrospinning. This is a simple, versatile method for generating nanofibers from a rich variety of materials including polymers, composites and ceramics. The procedure involves the use of a high electric field to produce ultra-fine polymeric fibers.

With other textiles, the scientists used nanomodifiers to ensure special properties. One such modification is by coating fabrics with nanoparticles that have specific properties, for example antibacterial nanoparticles.

According to Cieślak, textiles modified with nano- and microparticles can be composed of different raw materials, and have different structures and purposes. Their key advantage is that they are multifunctional. The same textile can have thermoregulatory, bioactive and photocatalytic functions simultaneously, Cieślak says. This last function means that the nanoparticles, under the influence of daylight, accelerate the decomposition of pollutants both in the air and on solid surfaces, such as stains.

When designing their smart textiles, the scientists mimicked the properties of some natural surfaces, including the lotus flower, whose petals are always clean. The plant owes this to the special structure of its surface. The new textiles emulate this feature, which makes them suitable for umbrellas and other uses, such as building façade material.

Versatile material

As part of the Nanomitex project, the scientists have developed several groups of technologies ready for use in the textile industry. One of these is encapsulation, a method implemented by researchers from the Wrocław University of Technology and the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Center for Molecular and Macromolecular Studies in Łódź.

The encapsulation technique involves the use of microcapsules filled with an active substance that is released in a controlled way, explains Cieślak. “Materials enriched with microcapsules can have thermoregulation properties,” he says. “The substance in the microcapsule absorbs heat, so that the clothing can stop the heat—up to a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius.” Likewise, smart textiles intended for use in the construction industry are capable of keeping room temperature constant at around 22-25 degrees Celsius.

The researchers also used the encapsulation technique to produce what are known as bioactive materials. With these materials, the biologically active substance is contained in polylactide microspheres. This polymer slowly disintegrates and the active substance is released into the material in a controlled way. Such materials can be used in medical clothing as well as in vacuum cleaners, upholstered furniture or mattresses for people with allergies, where their role is to ward off dust mites.

Meanwhile, scientists working on the Nanomitex project in the western city of Poznań have developed special filtering materials modified with nanoparticles and bionanofibers that are designed to ward off viruses. These can be used to produce modern antiviral hygiene masks. Thanks to their particular structure and special active compounds, such masks will not only protect their wearers from being exposed to a variety of hazardous substances, but will also destroy viruses.

The Poznań scientists have also developed flexible coatings that help contain fires. These swell on contact with fire, thus blocking the access of the oxygen needed to feed the flames.

An easy sell

The Nanomitex research project lasted from July 15, 2007 to April 30, 2014. After it was completed, a five-year period began for monitoring the commercial use of the project’s results.

“Companies have already taken an interest in the bioactive materials and their self-cleaning and thermoregulatory properties,” says Cieślak. “The technologies have been valued and we plan to grant a license.” Companies are waiting for financing from the Intelligent Development Operational Programme, Cieślak adds. The latter is a follow-up to the Innovative Economy Operational Programme, which provided the structural funds that financed the Nanomitex project.

The budget of the Nanomitex project was zl.21.56 million, including zl.18.33 million from European Union coffers. Poland’s National Center for Research and Development (NCBR) contributed zl.3.23 million and oversaw the project.

“This was an R&D project, so not all the topics were purely commercial,” says Cieślak. “Some need to be followed up in subsequent projects. We have developed a total of 21 technologies, although we only planned 10. We have submitted 13 inventions for patent protection.”

The Nanomitex project also made it possible to purchase new equipment, including specialized devices for nanotechnology research such as a Raman spectrophotometer. The spectrophotometer is used to check the distribution of nanoparticles in the material and how they work. Another device makes it possible to evaluate the properties of material surfaces, for example their wettability.

All the new research equipment enables the Textile Research Institute to provide specialized services for industry. The researchers help businesses assess the properties of materials. The aim, Cieślak says, is to improve consumer safety and the quality of life for people who will be using these innovative textiles every day.
Karolina Olszewska


Factfile

The Nanomitex project was conducted by a research consortium led by the Textile Research Institute in Łódź in a team-up with the Institute of Natural Fibers and Medicinal Plants in Poznań, the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering at the Wrocław University of Technology, the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Center for Molecular and Macromolecular Studies in Łódź, and the Poznań University of Life Sciences.