How Graphene Could Revolutionize Personal Protective Clothing for the Medical Industry. By Akanksha Urade Ph.D.
Graphene is regarded as the wonder material of the twenty-first century, having a wide range of commercial uses ranging from composites to cement, batteries, supercapacitors, and biosensors. Due to its remarkable thermal qualities and lightweight, graphene has even drawn attention from the garment industry for usage in work clothes, sporting, casual clothing, and winter outerwear. While these properties of graphene have facilitated its application in everyday clothing, it has also been incorporated into personal protective apparel. This article aims to shed light on how graphene could revolutionize and overcome the issues associated with the currently used personal protective equipment (PPE).
Shortcomings of Currently Used Personal Protective Equipment
This century has already witnessed the emergence of various deadly viruses, including swine flu and the most recent pandemic of COVID-19. Vaccines may be unavailable during the early stages of an outbreak; in that situation, the most efficient way to restrict the transmission of the infection is to use PPE such as surgical masks, full body gowns, footwear coverings, gloves, and scrub caps. However, the main issue with most existing PPE is physical discomfort. Second, the bulky nature of these PPE and the poor air permeability of these clothing may result in insulated circumstances and heat fatigue.
Furthermore, the textiles utilized in PPE may serve as a vehicle for the propagation of infections. Soft fabrics, such as cotton, polyester, and polypropylene, can easily become contaminated with pathogens, and these germs can persist on such fabrics for more than three months.
Protective clothing is expected to meet two opposing needs. First, it must resist pathogens, heat, and chemicals while being lightweight, mechanically strong, comfortable, and thermally dissipative. Polyester, polyethylene, polyamide, and activated carbon, which are commonly used in personal protective apparel, cannot meet all of the requirements at the same time.
Graphene: A Multifunctional Material
With their multi-functional capabilities, graphene-enhanced fabrics could be a solution in the realm of protective clothing. Therefore, a graphene coating can be added to disposable or reusable medical textiles to further enhance their ability to prevent contamination from bodily fluids or potentially dangerous viruses/bacteria. Graphene, for example, creates thermal transmission for passive cooling due to its outstanding thermal cooling characteristic. This feature can transfer heat from the human body to the environment and, when combined with polymer fibers, can reduce heat fatigue. Graphene offers excellent antibacterial properties as well as superhydrophilicity, which are critical characteristics for any protective apparel.
Furthermore, graphene's remarkable mechanical strength, flame resistance, abrasion resistance, and UV protectivity make it a viable candidate for PPEs and textiles. Graphene-based woven textiles are also extremely flexible and durable. All of these properties may be added to personal protective apparel if fabrics could be modified by graphene/graphene derivatives.
Graphene Enhanced Personal Protective Clothing: Commercial Examples
Gloves, often crafted from natural or synthetic rubber, are the most commonly worn hand protection equipment. It is important that the gloves used for protective purposes are tear/damage-free. Graphene-enhanced gloves produced by Armor Guys, the worldwide leader in the manufacturing of hand and arm protection products, have demonstrated outstanding cut resistance in this aspect.
N95 respirator masks are used by medical personnel as part of their PPE and can block 95% of particles larger than 300 nm. However, because the majority of the virus is 65-125 nm in diameter, it could still pass through the surgical mask and infect the person. In addition, the considerable weight and bulkiness of N95 masks create breathability over time. Graphene-based face masks for example, developed by LIGC, on the other hand, are lightweight, ultra-compact, and atomically thin; they have the ability to filter out 5-20 nm range contaminants and harmful viruses while maintaining great breathability, which is not feasible with currently available N95 masks.
Graphene is being commercialized as a coating on polymer fibers, including polyester, polyvinyl acetate, polyacrylonitrile, and polyamide 6 (nylon) to increase their performance for use in protective apparel. These types of yarns are currently on the market, allowing the end user to create their own protective garments.
The COVID-19 pandemic has recently witnessed a dramatic increase in the use of environmentally harmful plastic-based protective equipment, which has caused great alarm in society. Since graphene is cyto-compatible and biocompatible, PPE reinforced with graphene could be the most sustainable solution to the current plastic pollution.
Technological Breakthrough in Graphene Integrated Fabrics
Despite some remarkable innovations in the field of protective clothing, the biggest challenge for the commercialization of graphene modified textile is the lack of high‐quality large‐scale production method. This challenge has been overcome by Graphene-X, Hong Kong-based apparel company. Graphene-X has developed a cutting-edge technology to integrate graphene into (polyurethane) fabric. They focus on urban technical clothing that can be dragged to the outdoors and keep performing at the highest levels.
They recently introduced Nomad(e) jacket, that sports a ultra light (260grams) fully waterproof windbreaker, with heavy abrasion resistance and superior breathability. Graphene-X truly believes that its cutting-edge technology to integrate graphene into the fabric, will certainly transform the medical textile industry by adding permanent, high-performance properties to protective clothing.
by Akanksha Urade (LinkedIn)
References and further reading
Bhattacharjee, Shovon, et al. "Graphene modified multifunctional personal protective clothing." Advanced materials interfaces 6.21 (2019): 1900622.
Afroj, Shaila, et al. "Graphene‐Based Technologies for Tackling COVID‐19 and Future Pandemics." Advanced Functional Materials 31.52 (2021): 2107407.
Graphene Gloves https://armorguys.com/graphene-gloves-the-future-of-hand-protection/