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Laundry additive cleans air pollution

By Richard Maino

Within just two years, we could all be wearing clothes that purify the air as we simply move around in them.

Plans are being developed to commercialise a revolutionary liquid laundry additive - created in the UK - called Catalytic Clothing - that contains microscopic pollution-eating particles.

The new additive - CatClo for short - is the result of collaboration between England’s University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion, with initial support from the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council.

Items of clothing only need to be washed in the additive once for it to remain active, because the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide attach themselves to fabrics very tightly.

After the particles come into contact with nitrogen oxides in the air, they react with these pollutants and oxidise them in the fabric.

The nitrogen oxides treated in this way are odourless, colourless and pose no pollution hazard because they are removed when the item of clothing is next washed, if they have not already been dissipated harmlessly in sweat.

The additive is also harmless and the nanoparticles are unnoticeable from the wearer’s point of view.

One person wearing clothes treated with CatClo would be able to remove about 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.

As well as the general benefits that would result from people using CatClo, those suffering from respiratory conditions could also, by wearing such treated clothes, give themselves cleaner air to breathe as they move around.

Nitrogen oxides produced by road vehicle exhausts are a main source of ground-level air pollution in towns and cities, aggravating asthma and other respiratory diseases. Asthma affects one in 12 adults and one in 11 children in the UK.

Catalytic Clothing/CatClo is the brainchild of artist/designer Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan, people from very different worlds whose minds have come together over recent years in highly successful art/science collaborations (http://www.catalytic-clothing.com).

CatClo seeks to explore how clothing and textiles can be used as a catalytic surface to purify air, employing existing technology in a new way.

Catalytic Clothing is a partnership between Sheffield University, the University of the Arts London and London College of Fashion.

Professor Tony Ryan, of Sheffield University, co-led the project working closely with Professor Helen Storey, from the London College of Fashion. “It is the action of daylight on the nanoparticles that makes them function in this way,” he said.

“The development of the additive is just one of the advances we are making in the field of photocatalytic materials - materials that, in the presence of light, catalyse chemical reactions. Through CatClo, we aim to turn clothes into a catalytic surface to purify air.

“If thousands of people in a typical town used the additive, the result would be a significant improvement in local air quality,” added Professor Ryan (www.shef.ac.uk).

“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 [the northern England city of] Sheffield, for instance, if everyone washed their clothes in the additive, there would be no pollution problem caused by nitrogen oxides at all.”

His colleague, Professor Helen Storey continued: “Through the making of a short viral film about CatClo, we were able to reach an audience of over 300 million people, from 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.”

Professor Ryan agreed and said: “We are now working closely with a manufacturer of environmentally friendly cleaning products to commercialise our laundry additive. We believe that using the additive in a final rinse with a full washing load could potentially cost as little as 10 pence - a small price to pay for the knowledge that you are doing something tangible to tackle air pollution and increase the life expectancy of people with respiratory conditions. We are confident there’s a really big market out there for this product.”

The research, including a catalytic clothing field of jeans, was featured as part of the recent Manchester Science Festival.

CatClo works particularly well on denim; it is estimated that there are more jeans on the planet than people. Therefore, if CatClo were used on this one item of clothing from people’s wardrobes it could make a significant difference.

London Press Service