Besides assembling cars and manufacturing mobile phones and laptops, China has come up with a smart fabric that can clean itself.
Engineers from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Hubei University of Nationalities say they have created a chemical coating that reacts when exposed to sunlight and removes dirt, odours and stains from cotton materials. The Chinese researchers insist treatment is cheap, ecologically friendly and non-toxic.
Clothing retailers are hoping the new innovation will prove a smash hit with consumers who will embrace ‘functional clothing’ with open arms.
The latest study, published in the Applied Materials and Interfaces Journal, focuses on titanium dioxide – a substance famous for its excellent catalyst role played in degradation of organic pollutants. The chemical is already part of self-cleaning windows, stay-clean kitchen and bathroom tiles, odour-free socks and other materials.
The researchers say the challenge while developing the extra-ordinary fabric was to extend the use of titanium dioxide beyond glass and tiles and excite its self-cleaning properties under the sun. The team says it focused on reaction of TiO2 when exposed under Sun’s ultraviolet rays.
The Chinese team achieved a breakthrough when it created a nano-particle alcohol-based compound made up of titanium dioxide and nitrogen and adding triethylamine, an acid neutraliser used in dyes, to it.
The mixture is then stirred for 12 hours at room temperature and then heated at 100C for another six hours before finally treated with silver iodide particles.
To put their invention to test, the engineers then dipped the fabrics with an orange dye stain and exposed them to direct sunlight. The team noted that 71 per cent of the stain disappeared after two hours of contact with sun rays.
The engineers declared it a success as they noted dramatic improvement compared to previous trials and techniques applied. To make it fool proof, the team repeated the experiment on the same cloth five times with same results – a clear indication that the enhancement was permanent and stable.
Clothing industry experts predict the innovation will be a huge success when rolled out on an industrial scale reaching the masses.
“This kind of functional clothing has already proved very popular, especially in Japan where the authorities ordered a crackdown on air conditioning use after March’s earthquake caused power shortages,” said Isabelle Cavill, a clothing analyst at Planet Retail.
“It is also likely to prove popular in other parts of Asia where the heat causes sweat problems.”
The London-based analyst added that renowned Japanese label ‘Uniqlo’ is also promoting a range of ‘silky dry’ clothing that promises to keep skin dry and odour-less thanks to ‘smart fabrics’ made up of special ‘hi-tech processing neutralisers’.
The Japanese retailer is also marketing a ‘heat-tech’ line which creates heat that keeps users’ bodies warm.
“The main retailers to pick up on this latest innovation are likely to be those selling basicware,”? Cavill explained.
“In the West that could mean Wal-Mart or Marks and Spencer would want to invest in the Chinese technology to take advantage of functional clothing becoming more popular with shoppers.”
(By Moign Khawaja with input from BBC)