Nanotubes and polymers future of textiles: scientist
By Dennis Chang Special To The China Post
October 23, 2004, 12:00 am TWN
A leading Australian scientist has predicted the innovative textile industry will be worth billions in the near future. "By 2012, the potential market for interactive textiles may be worth US$7 billion," said Dr. Bill Humphries, Chief Research Scientist and Group Manager of the CSIRO's Textile and Fiber Technology.
On the second day of the 2004 Textile International Conference, Humphries outlined the potential development of advanced intelligent textiles for various essential target demographics, as wearable computing, physiological monitoring and combat apparel are just some of the hotspots that are predicted to generate large sums of revenue.
From a market research company, it was predicted that more than 60 percent of the U.S. population aged 15 to 50 will carry or wear a wireless computing and communications device at least six hours a day by 2007. "How much of these devices could be integrated into textiles is still currently unknown," said Humphries.
With a trend towards e-health related issues become an increasingly important concern among an aging population, physiological monitoring devices like posture sensors or abdominal bands measuring respirations may be integrated within interactive textiles to become appealing products for the elderly.
Most of all, combat apparel are essential wear for troops fighting in war torn parts of the world, where full garment integration of ultra lightweight ballistic protection along with passive or active thermal management and physiological causality status monitoring. "It is still not clear what the killer application will be — health, military or consumer," Humphries emphasized.
All of these textile products however, are based on the next generation of advanced material being investigated at CSIRO, which includes carbon nanotubes, nanocompsite fibers and conducing polymers.
Carbon nanotubes is one of the most durable fibers that have the characteristics of strength and strain. CSIRO is currently developing ultra-long nanotubes, which can be processed directly into yarns or non-wovens to produce electrical and thermal connectivity.
Nanotube composite fibers can greatly reduce tearing in the fabric. However, due to the limited production capacity of five grams per day and inability to control the dispersion of the polymers exactly; greater development needs to be further strengthened in this area. Humphries hopes that CSIRO can increase the product rate to 12 kgs per day by year-end 2005.
"Conducting Polymers will likely become breakthrough innovations if plastics can become more flexible and potentially cheaper and easier to process," and could have useful applications to interactive fabrics, added the researcher.
Like nanotube composite fibers, more practical means of production in improved durability and scalability along with better research methods is required if the product is to appear on commercial shelves within the next few years.
"Molecular templating allows integration of electronic functionality into textiles and improves its stability in washing over conventional ICP treated textiles, as these innovations are just some of the prototypes currently in work," Humphries said.
Through greater input from the industry, meeting market demands and creating materials that are robust and easily washable, the future of the interactive textile industry looks very bright.