Top Tech: Self-Decontaminating Materials

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(U.S. Defense Department graphic illustration by Jessica L. Tozer/Released)

(U.S. Defense Department graphic illustration by Jessica L. Tozer/Released)

Technology: Self-Decontaminating Filters, Clothing and Disposable Wipes

Agency: Naval Research Laboratory

The Naval Research Laboratory has developed a new self-decontaminating coating for use in filters, clothing and disposable wipes that are capable of actively destroying pesticides, chemical agents and certain bacteria on contact.

What is it?

It is a substance that coats on and decontaminates. So, let’s break this all down (science pun intended):

This self-decontaminating coating is comprised of a thin, layered, composite film containing enzymes and a polyelectrolyte binder.  These enzymes actively degrade chemical toxins. It is readily applied to substrates such as beads, fabrics or paper by inexpensive methods such as dip coating, spin coating or spraying.

The Naval Research Lab’s method for incorporating enzymes within a film maintains enzyme activity, while stabilizing and protecting the enzyme from denaturation due to mechanical, chemical and environmental stress.

What does that mean?

This coating is made from low-cost, easy-to-obtain, water-based materials. It’s easy to apply as well; existing fabric or wipes can be sprayed or dip coated, and it works.  There is efficient degradation of toxins on contact.  Self-decontaminating, of course, coating actively and continuously degrades toxins. It’s also versatile; the enzymes can be selected for activity against target toxin. Interestingly, the flexibility of other functions (e.g. antibacterial activity) can be readily added to films.

What does it do?

Well, it cleans up (or decontaminates) shop, if you will, but that’s not all.  It’s carefully produced and tested.  The filters are prepared using beads coated with films which contain an organophosphorous hydrolase (OPH) enzyme and a completely hydrolyzed methyl parathion (MPT) pesticide in an aqueous-alcohol solution under continuous flow conditions at room temperature for at least 8 months.

The materials offer unique platforms as effective systems for the active, self-decontamination of chemical toxins for homeland defense, agricultural and other commercial applications.

How can this help?

Aside from making sure you’re not spreading that cold around, there are serious-business applications for materials that don’t let microscopic matter linger. Some of the applications include water purification (we’re talking filters here), and pesticide remediation in aqueous environments.  Believe it or not, there is quite the need for this kind of thing, as remediation is particularly challenging when a mixture of pesticides is also present.

There are also applications for personal protection – like gloves, masks and clothing – especially where the exposure to chemical agents is likely. And, of course, the “wet wipe” option; surface decontamination (see: disposable wipes) application for chemical spill cleanup.

My take?

Look, no one wants to clean up the spills, but somebody’s gotta do it.  If you have kids like I do, then the value of a readily available antibacterial wipe speaks for itself.  And that’s just with sticky handprints and changing table wipe downs.  Think about how great it would be to have clothes, wipes, filters and material coatings that decontaminate themselves?  And think of how much further you could take this kind of thing.

I mean really, self-decontaminating toilets would practically sell themselves.

But it goes beyond that.  Chemical spills are no small matter, and neither are the consequences for mishandling them.  Contamination is a more real and present danger than you might think, and there’s nothing quite like a preemptive safety move to lessen the chances of potential disaster.  There is hardly an argument against making life a little less chemically contaminated.

This is a material designed to actively destroy pesticides, chemical agents and certain bacteria.  Imagine if you coated the chairs in the waiting room of the doctor’s office with this stuff.  Or on door handles in schools. Or on farming equipment.  Or public restrooms.

There are a lot of unexplored possibilities here, with a growing number of advantages.  This presents practical applications that can apply anywhere from big business to inside the home.  Besides, the world could stand to be a little more decontaminated, don’t you think?

This stuff needs to roll onto the market like, yesterday.  I’ll take a box of it.

Want to learn more?  Click here for more information on this technology!

Are you interested in more federal inventions? The Naval Research Laboratory has a broad portfolio of technologies that are available for commercialization. Visit their official website to learn more!

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Jessica L. Tozer is a blogger for DoDLive and Armed With Science.  She is an Army veteran and an avid science fiction fan, both of which contribute to her enthusiasm for science and technology in the military.

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