2010 Interview by Hong Kong Capital Magazine


ATA Journal for Asia on Textile & Apparel

Post  date : May issue 2009


Nanotechnology revolutionizing textile surface treatment and fiber properties
Post date : 31/12/2007 16:27

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At the recent International Conference & Exhibition on Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials held in Hong Kong in mid-December, experts and researchers in the textile and apparel industry gathered together to share their findings and vision of nano-treated textiles of the next generation.

The term nanotechnology comes from the Greek word "nanos", which means dwarf. One nanometer (nm) is one millionth of a millimeter. On this micro scope, the once-common-sense understanding of fiber properties have been turned upside down, giving fibers and fabrics such characteristics as water repellency, oil and stain resistance, wrinkle free, UV-protection, antibacterial performance, odor elimination and quick drying.

Jeff Chan says nanotechnology-laden textile products can currently mark up 30% to 50% in retail price.

"Self-cleaning probably has the biggest potential for commercialization as more fabric makers are trying to utilize the lotus-effect," said Jeff Chan, Project Manager and Senior Specialist of the Industry & Information Department of Taiwan Textile Federation (TTF).

The lotus effect, or superhydrophobicity, in material science, refers to the observed self-cleaning property found with lotus plants. Their microscopic structure and surface chemistry ensures that the leaves never get wet, hence the leaves are naturally non-sticky while able to clean themselves on their own. It has been imitated by using nanotechnology. In Schoeller's second-generation NanoSphere introduced in fall 2007, the finish's abrasion resistance on both wet and dry fabrics is greatly improved, so the protective function is permanently maintained even under heavy-duty use and frequent washing.

E-textiles empowered by nanotechnology

Another potentially attractive application field of nanotechnology in textiles is e-textiles.

"In future, nanotechnology and flexible system in textile material may aim at the implementation of the 'e-textiles', or smart textiles, where sensing, actuating, communication and power sourcing are integrated on a piece of textile," Mr Chen said.

Prof. Yi Li is researching for fiber bio-engineering that combines nanotechnology, eco-friendliness and functional textiles.
Possible applications include a wetness sensor with a diaper, and more sophisticated uses in military wear embedded with LCD panel, controlling devices, motion sensor and RFID.

Improving well-being

Nanotechnology in textiles can also help improve the human well-being. According to the research findings of Prof. Yi Li, Prof. John Xin and Dr Fei Bin of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, naonoparticle assembly on fiber surfaces offers photocatalysis (with anti-bacterial and self-cleaning effects etc) and super repellency, while nanocapsule coating on fiber surfaces can give insect repellency, skin care, fragrance and mimic diatom. Furthermore, nanosheet assembly on fiber surfaces provide fire retardancy.

Standardization in need

According to figures of Cientifica Ltd, the potential market of nano-treated textiles and apparel, in the form of nanometer particles application, smart fabrics, e-textiles and wearable electronics, was estimated to reach US$13.6 billion in 2007 and projected to hit US$115 billion in 2012.

This huge potential has driven Toray, Toyobo and SeanDa Technology to develop and utilize nanotechnology in one way or another to increase the quality of their fiber and fabric products, apart from Schoeller. Suppliers such as DuPont, BASF, Murata, Bayer and Evonik Degussa have also been participating in the quest of new nano-finishing effects on fiber or other substances.

Despite the great potential, the textile and other industries find them look like swimming in the open sea when applying nanotechnology in their products.

First, some consumers show hesitation in nano-treated garments regarding product safety. Second, producers currently do not have any widely accepted standards to follow when developing new products, nor can they show or label added performance on garments in a standardized way during product launch.

In face of these problems, countries such as USA and China have started to establish relevant standards for nanotechnology applications.

Charlie Chow is optimistic with the standardization development of nanotechnology in China.
In particular, China launched the GB/T19619-2004 Terminology for nanomaterials in 2004. This year (2007), Guangdong Province took the lead to establish DB (provincial level standard)-44/T 415-2007 for nanotechnology-treated clothes. According to Charlie Chow, Technical Director of Nano-Group Holdings Ltd based in Hong Kong, this voluntary local standard, already approved by the Bureau of Quality and Technology Supervision of Guangdong Province, adopts various test methods for woven and knitted fabrics to examine their functions: liquid repellency (GB/T  47..., ISO 4920:1981), oil repellency and hydrocarbon resistance (GB/T 19977-2005, ISO 14419:1998), soil-release performance (FZ/T 10012), antibacterial efficacy (FZ/T 73023-2006, AATCC 100:1999, JIS L 1902:2002), and UV protection (GB/T 18830).


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