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Incredible but true. Thanks to researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, soon we will no longer have to do the laundry, because it will clean itself, removing stains and dirt in general, simply by exposing it to light.
A close-up of a piece of cotton fabric covered with nanostructures invisible to the naked eye. Source: rmit.edu.au
Researchers have developed an inexpensive and efficient way of incorporating, directly into tissues, a few nanostructures invisible to the human eye and capable of degrading organic matter when exposed to light.
His research paves the way considerably towards the manufacture of fabrics capable of self-cleaning by placing them under the light. from a light bulb or tending them to the sun.
The team of researchers from the Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility and the Nanobiotechnology Research Laboratory of the Australian public university RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) worked with silver and copper nanostructures, for its ability to absorb visible light.
When nanostructures are exposed to light, the surface nanoparticles receive an energy charge and become excited, generating what are known as "hot electrons." These, in turn, release an energy discharge that degrades organic matter, allowing the nanostructures to remove stains and dirt from the fabric.
Once again, as with most nanotechnology research, the main challenge for researchers has been to be able to transfer the concept from the laboratory to the production phase, devising a way to create these nanostructures on an industrial scale and incorporate them permanently into tissues.
To solve it, they devised a completely novel approach than It consists of developing the nanostructures directly on the tissues by immersing them in a series of solutions. His method allows to develop stable nanostructures incorporated into tissues in less than 30 minutes.
Detail of the nanostructures incorporated into cotton fabrics by RMIT researchers (image magnified 150,000 times). Source: rmit.edu.au
The researchers used cotton fabrics. In subsequent tests with these nanotechnology fabrics to verify their self-cleaning ability, some of the fabrics took less than 6 minutes to clean spontaneously on their own, once exposed to light.
Basically, the researchers observed that one of the two materials is faster in the cleaning process and takes just 6-10 minutes to complete, compared to 30 minutes for the other. However, according to Ramanathan, the one that is slower is also more stable, offering a good balance between speed and stability.
According to Dr. Rajesh Ramanathan, one of the authors of the study, the advantage of tissues is that they already have a 3D structure that allows them to easily absorb light, accelerating the process of degradation of matter.
The next step, Ramanathan pointed out, will prove our nano-reinforced fabrics with sweat and other stains produced by organic compounds more interesting for consumers, like tomato sauce or wine, to see how quickly you can remove them.
"We still have a lot of work to do before washing machines can disappear from homes, but this advance lays a solid foundation for the future development of fully self-cleaning fabrics," says Ramanathan.
In addition to self-cleaning functions, this new method could have other applications very diverse, including that of the development of antibacterial tissues capable of eliminating superbugs.
Superbugs are a big problem today, due to the enormous difficulty that professionals are finding in getting rid of them. Researchers at RMIT University they have already started testing these antibacterial fabrics with some superbugs with incredibly positive results.
According to Ramanathan, the process developed by his team could have a wide variety of applications in sectors such as the development of agrochemical, pharmaceutical and natural products; and it could easily scale to industrial levels.
The research results were published on March 23, 2020 in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.