October 10th, 2012 by Joshua S Hill
Mitigating the tonnes of pollution that are being swept into the atmosphere every day is a big part of environmental research these days, and researchers from the University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion have managed to come up with the coolest method of contributing to the removal of pollution ever.
They’ve developed a new liquid laundry additive called ‘CatClo’ which, after only one wash, will allow your clothes to start purifying the air of pollution as you wander around your world.
With initial support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the University of Sheffield and London College of Fashion are proceeding to commercialise CatClo, giving consumers the opportunity to start removing nitrogen oxides from the air.
Items of clothing need only be washed once in CatClo before they can start depolluting the air around them. The nanoparticles of titanium dioxide grip on to fabrics very tightly, and when these particles come into contact with nitrogen oxides in the air, they react and oxidise them in the fabric.
“It’s the action of daylight on the nanoparticles that makes them function in this way,” Professor Tony Ryan OBE of the University of Sheffield, who has co-led the project working closely with Professor Helen Storey MBE from London College of Fashion, says. “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, 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,” Professor Ryan added. “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.”
One person alone wearing clothing treated with CatClo would be capable of removing approximately 5 grams of nitrogen oxides from the air in the course of an average day. That might not sound like a lot, but it adds up to roughly the equivalent of the amount of nitrogen oxides produced by the average family car in a day.
Nitrogen oxides are not necessarily widely publicised as a crucial pollutant, but asthma sufferers will be aware of the impact these particles have on their ability to breathe comfortably. Nitrogen oxides aggravate asthma and other respiratory diseases, so not only will CatClo improve the air quality overall if everyone starts treating their clothes in the additive, but asthma sufferers will be able to make their own lives a lot easier by wearing CatClo-treated clothes, giving themselves clean air to breathe all the time.
“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,” said Professor Helen Storey. “This in itself is still a relatively new concept. 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.”
“We’re now working closely with a manufacturer of environmentally friendly cleaning products to commercialise our laundry additive,” added Professor Ryan. “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’re doing something tangible to tackle air pollution and increase the life expectancy of people with respiratory conditions. We’re confident there’s a really big market out there for this product.”
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