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Nanotechnology provides more function with less space

October 1st, 2008 / By: / Sustainability, Technical

Nanotechnology, the engineering of functional systems at the molecular level, is all about getting more function on less space. Next-generation nano materials have already hit the textile market in the form of nano-enhanced fabrics with antimicrobial properties able to kill germs, viruses and “superbugs” that come into contact with the surface of upholstery or surgical attire. Self-cleaning and deodorizing fabrics have been developed for use in commercial applications. Fabrics that repel dirt and water or add fire-retardant properties while retaining comfort, breathability and performance are now possible for applications in safety and protective products.

The next step involves the “greening” of the fabric finishing process, and green nanotechnology principles are a big part of that process. “It’s a philosophy that offers the opportunity to head off adverse effects before they occur, looking at your nanotechnology manufacturing processes from the beginning so that they maximize product performance while minimizing environmental, health and safety risks,” says Paul Bennotti, vice president of marketing and business development at G3 Technology Innovations LLC (G3i) in Pittsford, N.Y.

Such a “systems-thinking” process eliminates waste in the manufacturing process and creates products that limit or eliminate the use of harmful chemistries while improving their economy of use by “making every atom count,” Bennotti adds. “People are thinking about the lifecycle of a product; how is it made, what are its components, what is the process behind it? All the steps and all the individual processes in the textile industry are now being considered—the fiber substrates, dyes, the manufacturing of the fabrics, and now the finishing process. This is one of the last steps in a holistic approach to making a green product.”

The textile industry as a whole, including manufacturers who supply fabric finishes, are all moving in the right direction, he adds, striving to make improvements in their products or processes that are more environmentally sound.

G3i is using a patented nanotechnology process to produce a line of fabric finishes that reduces the amount of fluorocarbons by up to eight times and the amount of chemicals in general by three times. Some fluorocarbons can bioaccumulate when ingested in the body and have been identified by the EPA as possible carcinogens. G3i’s GreenShield™ products can provide water and stain repellency, antimicrobial and flame-retardant properties, and have been certified by the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) as a low-fluorocarbon treatment, safe and healthy for indoor environments. The company believes in being very transparent in revealing its chemicals and processes to customers and the marketplace. “When you get into the world of chemicals, companies are very hesitant to share with people what they’re doing because they’re afraid of the negative impact,” says Bennotti. “If you try to be as green as you possibly can, you should be transparent about it. It’s the right thing to do.”

As chemical sensitivities and allergies continue to rise, consumers are demanding products that are safe for them and their environment. G3i co-founder and COO Suresh Sunderrajan, who will speak at the Going Beyond Green symposium at IFAI Expo, believes nature can teach us a lot about how to solve problems that until now have been solved with “brute force”—overuse of chemicals. The company has been able to replicate the water repellency of a lotus leaf by texture rather than chemistry, through its nano-based application.

Still, chemistry has its place in a natural world, he adds. “Chemistry has brought a lot of good things; no one wants to throw the baby out with the bath water. That’s why sustainability is important. Let’s do it smarter, as opposed to just consuming, so that we continue to grow and build upon what we’ve got and ensure it’s going to be there for the future.”

Barbara Ernster is a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.

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