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September 27, 2012

U.K. Researchers May 'Clean Up' on Laundry Additive that Oxidizes Air Pollution



Will the answer to global warming come out in the wash? Thanks to research collaboration between the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England, and the London College of Fashion, that’s now a distinct possibility. The schools have jointly developed a rinse cycle additive that clings to clothesand purifies the air around them. It could be commercialized within the next two years.

The revolutionary liquid laundry additive, called CatClo, contains microscopic pollution-eating particles. Clothing only needs to be washed in the additive just once; the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide grip fabrics very tightly. When the particles come into contact with nitrogen oxides in the air, they react with these pollutants and oxidize them.

Dressing in the clothing is not dangerous, either to the person wearing the special fabric or to those with whom he or she comes into contact. CatClo is completely odorless and colorless, and the pollutants are removed harmlessly during the next wash cycle, f they haven’t already been dissipated harmlessly by sweat.

One person wearing clothes treated with CatClo would be able to remove around five grams of nitrogen oxides from the air in the course of an average day, roughly equivalent to the amount produced each day by the average family car.

Nitrogen oxides produced by vehicle exhausts are a major source of ground-level air pollution, aggravating asthma and other respiratory diseases. Asthma currently affects one in 12 adults and one in 11 children in the United Kingdom. In addition to the general environmental benefits of the additive, the researchers say that people with respiratory conditions could wear the clothing to clean the air around them which will make it easier to breathe.

Professor Tony Ryan of the University of Sheffield, who managed the project in tandem with Professor Helen Storey from London College of Fashion, commented, “It’s the action of daylight on the nanoparticles that makes them function in this way. The development of the additive is just one of the advances we’re making in the field of photocatalytic materials— materials that, in the presence of light, catalyze chemical reactions. Through CatClo, we aim to turn clothes into a catalytic surface to purify air.”

He added, “If thousands of people in a typical town used the additive, the result would be a significant improvement in local air quality. This additive creates the potential for community action to deliver a real environmental benefit that could actually help to cut disease and save lives. In Sheffield, for instance, if everyone washed their clothes in the additive, there would be no pollution problem caused by nitrogen oxides at all.”

Professor Helen Storey, stated, “When science and culture work together in this way, it becomes possible to involve the intended end user in the early stages of the development of the technology. This, in itself, is still a relatively new concept. Through the making of a short viral video about CatClo, we were able to reach an audience of over one million people, across 147 countries—engaging the public in the normally hidden research process. The direct feedback and enthusiasm we received revealed a massive market for this product from potential consumers who understand the concept behind it.”

Based in Swindon, the research initially was partially funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which provides government research grants, mainly to universities in the United Kingdom. The initiative received a total of £202,000 (US $327, 967) in EPSRC support.

CatClo works particularly well on denim and there are more jeans on the planet than people. The research, including a catalytic clothing field of jeans, will be featured as part of the Manchester Science Festival slated to take place from October 27–November 4, 2012.

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Edited by Jamie Epstein

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