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Engineers make a self-cooling fabric from polyethylene

Swatches | June 1, 2021 | By:

In considering materials that could become the fabrics of the future, helping humans adapt to climate change, scientists have largely dismissed one widely available option: polyethylene. This thin and lightweight material, commonly used in plastic grocery bags, could keep a person cooler than most textiles because it allows heat through rather than trapping it in. But polyethylene is also anti-wicking, a major deterrent to its adoption as a wearable textile. However, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently spun polyethylene into fibers and yarns designed to wick away moisture. The yarns were woven into silky, lightweight fabrics that absorb and evaporate water more quickly than common textiles such as cotton, nylon and polyester. Researchers hope that fabrics made from polyethylene could provide an incentive to recycle plastic bags and other polyethylene products into wearable textiles, adding to the material’s sustainability. The research was supported in part by the U.S. Army Research Office, the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) Institute, MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), the MIT Deshpande Center and the MIT-Tecnológico de Monterrey Nanotechnology Program. Photo: Felice Frankel, Christine Daniloff, MIT.

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