Breathable Gear Could Help Guard Against Biological Agents | AIChE

Breathable Gear Could Help Guard Against Biological Agents


Driven by shortcomings in personal protective equipment (PPE), which is more important in the age of coronavirus than ever, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have developed a smart, breathable fabric that protects the wearer from biological and chemical agents.

“Typical PPE is designed to maximize protection and keep people safe, but it is unable to keep the wearer comfy at the same time,” says Francesco Fornasiero, a researcher at LLNL. “Keeping the body temperature low enough where you can operate without heat stress or even a heat stroke is a challenge. Today’s PPE limits the permeation of water vapor into a hazmat suit, for example, and because of that, sweat is retained on the inside. The result is that you can only wear these suits for a short time.”

Fornasiero’s team created a material with two layers that are key for protection and comfort. The inner layer is designed to maximize breathability. The pores of the inner layer had to be small enough to keep out larger particles, such as viruses or chemical agents, but large enough to let water vapor, or sweat, escape from the skin.

The researchers constructed this material using carbon nanotubes with pores that have an average diameter of 3.2 nm. Thus, water easily diffuses through the base layer, but harmful agents are blocked from...

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