What has a graphite pencil in common with heat protection?

„Graphene goes textile“: So far, thinking of Graphite just meant thinking of a pencil – which was exactly it. A common pencil is made of graphene with more than 10 layers and this kind of structure is called graphite. Graphene is a single layer of Carbon. The different number of layers with ever the same kind of honeycomb lattice made of hexagons result in multiple properties.

A graphene layer is only as thick as a human hair. Who were the researchers behind this? „Two scientists from Russia peeled off one graphite layer after the other“, says Dr. Jan Beringer from Hohenstein Institutes. The material stemming from this is multifunctional: ultra-thin and therefore transparent, an extremely efficient conductor of electricity and heat, with higher tensile strength than steel, yet flexible and abrasion-resistant and impermeable to gases.

Despite of many potential uses for graphene, the scientists’ focus was on the conductivity of graphene untill now. In Europe in the meantime, researchers of Hohenstein Institutes together with the companies Ionic Liquids Technologies (Iolitec), Fuchshuber TechnoTex and Belgian Centexbel institute as well as the firm Soleries Elite started researching together on the project “GRAFAT – using graphene for the surface modification of textiles in heat protective clothing”. “This research makes us one of the leaders in using grapheme modifications on textile surfaces”, says Dr. Bianca Wölfling, Hohenstein Institute.

The procedure is as follows. The project starts with Iolitex working on the transformation of the various graphene modifications into stable aqueous dispersions. The aim is to develop stable techniques for applying aqueous graphene dispersions so that they can be used as a permanent coating on different textile surfaces.

Normally, the functionalisation of textiles for PPE requires a multi-stage process. This may no longer be necessary if graphene can be applied in a single-stage process. The material used for PPE could then be thinner and therefore lighter. This in turn increases the wearer’s mobility and reduces the PPE makers’ production costs.

Using graphene to modify the surface can significantly improve the flame-retardant properties of a textile. Graphene can act as a physical barrier, effectively preventing the penetration of heat and gases. A newly developed e-textile can even help detect noxious gases. At the same time, graphene also has the potential to prevent the thermal decomposition of the textile. Another benefit of graphene is its resistance to abrasion and rupture, about 200 times higher than that of steel. These qualities also make graphene extremely interesting for applications in the field of personal protective equipment.

Research results are expected by the end of 2017.

Picture: Hohenstein Institutes

Marc Chalupsky

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