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New Anti-Warfire Fabric Project

25237 NanotubesFabric2350A team of scientists led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is developing a new military uniform material that repels biological and chemical agents using a novel fabric based on carbon nanotubes.

The material will be designed to undergo a rapid transition from a permeable to a protective state. The highly breathable membranes would have pores made of a tiny vertically aligned carbon nanotubes modified with a chemical warfare agent-responsive functional layer. Response to the threat would be triggered by a direct warfare agent attack to the membrane surface, at which time the fabric would switch to a impermeable state by closing the CNT pores or by shedding the contaminated surface layer.


 
High breathability is a critical requirement for protective clothing to prevent heat-stress when personnel are engaged in missions in contaminated environments. Current protective military uniforms are based on heavyweight full-barrier protection or permeable adsorptive protective overgarments that cannot meet the critical demand of simultaneous high comfort and protection, and provide a passive rather than active response to an environmental threat.

 


To provide high breathability, the new material will take advantage of the unique properties of carbon nanotube pores, which have 100 times higher gas permeation rate compared with any other pore of similar size.

Biological agents, such as bacteria or viruses, are close to 10 nanometers in size. Because the membrane pores on the uniform are only a few nanometers wide, these membranes will easily block biological agents.

However, chemical agents are much smaller in size and require the membrane pores to be able to react to block the threat. To create a multifunctional membrane, the team will surface modify the original prototype carbon nanotube membranes with chemical threat responsive functional groups. The functional groups on the membrane will sense and block the threat like gatekeepers on entrance. A second response scheme also will be developed: Similar to how a living skin peels off when challenged with dangerous external factors, the fabric will exfoliate upon reaction with the chemical agent. In this way, the fabric will be able to block chemical agents such as sulfur mustard (blister agent), GD and VX nerve agents, toxins such as staphylococcal enterotoxin and biological spores such as anthrax.

The project is funded for $13 million over five years with LLNL as the lead institution. Other institutions involved in the project include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, and Chasm Technologies Inc.

The new uniforms could be deployed in the field in less than 10 years.

Photo and text adopted from: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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