How will nanotechnology improve textiles?

How will nanotechnology improve textiles?

Nanotechnology is now present in many areas and applications. In recent years, nanotechnology has made its way into the textile industry. Nanotechnology has not only been incorporated into a wide range of garments to increase the durability of clothing apparel, but also industrial textiles.

There are also many additional areas that benefit from the use of nanotechnology but are not directly in the textile itself. These are wearable electronics that can be incorporated into clothing, and coatings which bring protective properties to the exterior of a textile.

There are a wide range of nanomaterials that have been incorporated into garments to improve their properties. These nanomaterials range from graphene, to carbon nanotubes, and to various nanoparticles (clay, carbon black, metal and metal oxide).

Research has come even further these days through the commercialisation of nanofibres. Rather than go through the process of incorporating nanoparticles (or other nanomaterials), companies can now create garments out of nanoscale fibres. An area that has significantly benefited from using nanofibers is anti-microbial clothing, wound dressings and bedding in the medical industry.

Regardless of the approach, the direct use of nanomaterials in textiles is known to create stain repellent, wrinkle-free, static eliminating, electrically conductive and anti-microbial garments. These properties have been found to be further benefitted by there being no compromise in clothing quality and comfort.

But, not every nanomaterial-inspired textile is the same. Some are used in clothing, but some are also used in textiles designed for industrial processes. Depending on the application (and therefore the nanomaterial used), these textiles can be designed to minimise odours, to make them resistant to water (hydrophobic), to make them fire resistant and to make the textile electronically responsive. This is not an exhausted list and the use of different nanomaterials can introduce a wide range of properties depending on the exact application.

Wearable electronics are gaining traction in the nanotechnology community and materials such as graphene are making waves in the industry. Whilst wearable electronics can be used as an independent device, the ability for the device to respond to changes of the wearer through their clothing has gained a lot interest. However, these devices require the clothing to be electrically responsive to external stimuli and using nanomaterials in clothing has been proven to be the most efficient way to achieve this.

Much of the recent focus has been on new functional clothes, but a lot of industrial textiles go unnoticed because they are not of much use to the average person. Many industrial textiles need to be lightweight, insulating and fit certain spaces (be it a gap, or round a pipe). Using nanomaterials in industrial textiles offers a way to the creation of textiles that fits this bill.

There are leading research centres dedicated to the interface between textiles and nanomaterials. Such centres include the Centre for Textile Science and Engineering at Ghent University and The Textiles Nanotechnology Laboratory at The University of Cornell.

However, the merging of nanotechnology and textiles is not purely academic, there are various companies out there who are creating commercially available nano-inspired textiles. These include Deewear, who have implemented graphene into sportswear; Aspen Aerogels, who have a range of industrial textiles that use nanotechnology for use as insulating materials; and Nanotex, who have created a wide range of textile products from clothing, to furniture, and to textiles used for interior design purposes.

Written by Liam Critchley