Researchers Develop Virus-Killing Clothing for Production Line

Clothing that can kill viruses and bacteria on contact helps protect the people who protect us, but getting that type of protective finish onto the uniforms first responders wear is a big challenge. 

University of Alberta researchers are now working to make the science behind self-decontaminating fabrics a good fit for the production line.

“We want to take the technology from the lab and scale it up so that it is efficient and compatible for industry-level manufacturing processes, which is a very big step,” says lead researcher Patricia Dolez, a textiles scientist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

To make wide-scale industrial production economically feasible, the one-year project focuses on improving the short- and long-term performance of a fabric finish Dolez and fellow researchers James Harynuk and Jane Batcheller are exploring. The work is supported by almost $1 million in funding from the Department of National Defence’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program.

The finish uses N-halamines, compounds that can kill bacteria and viruses quickly and efficiently, and can be easily grafted onto textiles.

Once scaled up, it could be applied to protective uniforms for everyone from soldiers and hospital workers to firefighters and paramedics. 

“This solution could apply to any type of protective clothing, even face masks, which introduces an additional way to help first responders stay healthy and safe,” says Dolez.

The researchers will also develop a recharging system needed to reactivate the finish that’s been applied to a garment, which requires dipping it in chlorine-containing solutions like bleach.

Soldiers in the field don’t always have access to luxuries like running water or washing machines, so there needs to be an easy way they can recharge their garments in harsh conditions and remote environments, notes Dolez.

“We want to develop a system with a minimal footprint that’s not bulky or heavy, doesn’t need to be done often and can be easily applied. It could be a powder or a liquid.”

The researchers are tailoring the technology to first responders’ needs by partnering with Logistik Unicorp Inc., a Canadian company that manages supply chains for a range of corporate and government clients worldwide that use protective clothing.

“They’re consulting with their clients, which brings an overarching view to our research that isn’t limited to one textile technology or application,” says Dolez. “That’s going to help us find out the best production process for our solution.”

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