High tech fabric could protect troops from some WMD
How's this for cool threads? Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been crafting a high-tech fabric for the military made out of tiny carbon nanotubes — hollow structures that stay breathable in hot weather yet are small enough to block out pathogens. For an extra layer of safety, they're planning to add a special coating that will block out even the smallest toxins, such as anthraxspores and other chemical and biological warfare agents.The technology is still in the concept stages, but the research has already received funding from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It's easy to see why it appeals to the military: Clothing made out of this material could replace the heavy protective gear that can weigh soldiers down in desert operations. Francesco Fornasiero, a chemical engineer at the Bay Area lab, discussed the technology's potential.Carbon nanotubes have been used to make tougher bicycle parts and stronger epoxy. Why did you decide to use them to make fabric?We developed membranes which have pores that are made only of carbon nanotubes. These pores have walls that are extremely small. The smoothness of this wall and the hydrophobicity [ability to repel water] are together responsible for the extremely rapid transport rates observed for both gases and liquids.How fast does it rid itself of anything that tries to stick to it?For liquids like water, the transport rate of these pores is about 1,000 times or more faster than what you would see in other pores of similar size. For gases, it's on the order of 100 times faster.So based on this initial observation several years ago, we started thinking of other applications. This was one of them: breathable fabric.How does it work?So these tubes made of carbon span the entire thickness of the membrane and they have a diameter that is tiny, on the order of a few nanometers. [DNA molecules are measured in nanometers.] The material we built is significantly better than Gore-Tex, if you want a comparison for a typical breathable material.However, breathable fabric has huge pores, much larger than what we have in our membranes. We are able to reject particles as small as five nanometers completely. Biological threats, the smallest ones, are on the order of tens of nanometers.What kinds of threats are we talking about?
...Clothing made from this material would have several advantages over current uniforms designed to resist WMD. Being both lighter and breathable, it would make it easier to maneuver to contact as well as not sapping the troops' energy. The "transport rate" for water suggest that it could easily be hosed down to rid any lingering biological material. Those researching the material say we are about five years away from being able to produce it for wear. It seems to have some of the qualities of Gor-tex which is used in foul weather gear since the 1980s. The Gor-tex is both water resistant and breathable. It is made with a derivative of Teflon.