Catalytic Clothing: Fashionably Cleaning The Air

Nowadays, there are a number of environmentally friendly fashion designers, focused on creating trendy, yet environmentally friendly clothing. However, a collaboration of UK colleges and universities want to achieve a more ambitious goal; to develop clothing that can remove pollutants and clean the air we breathe.

Professors and researchers at the London College of Fashion, University of Sheffield, and the University of Ulster created the brand “Catalytic Clothing” in which they developed a way to implement pollution fighting technology into clothing. By applying a titanium dioxide solution to clothing, people can help cut down pollution by simply wearing clothes. Equipping clothing with this technology is as simple as using a fabric conditioner with the titanium dioxide solution additive while doing the laundry. Once it dries, the clothing can immediately start cleaning the air. Perhaps in the near future, this solution can be purchased at local supermarkets in the laundry detergent section.

Simply put, electrons in the titanium dioxide solution become excited when light hits the clothing. Those electrons then react with the oxygen in the air, producing peroxide. The peroxide then reacts with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the air and breaks them down. Professor Tony Ryan of Sheffield University says the peroxide does the bulk of the work cleaning the air.

This technology has been used in other applications, such as pavement, paint, and glass coatings, but Professor Ryan believes applying the technology to clothing is a breakthrough. Wind is key to making this technology work and since people can generate their own wind by walking or even sitting in a car. It can prove to be a more effective application of the technology than immobile buildings.

Additionally, Professor Ryan warns that the solution must be readily exposed to light. “Any item of clothing could be treated, but in order for the technology to work you need light. So, for example, you wouldn’t want to coat your underpants,” says the Professor.

The solution reacts with any pollutants it comes in contact with and can be washed away the next time the laundry is done. Although this technology can remove pollutants from the air, after cleaning and removing the reacted pollutants from clothing, will these pollutants pose risks to water quality? If this technology becomes widely accepted, not only dirt, food debris, and other laundry waste is drained from washing machines, waste water from doing the laundry will also contain pollutants found in automobile exhaust and other harmful emissions. Facilities that treat waste water may have more work to do to accommodate this change.

Catalytic Clothing wanted a way to get people excited about this technology. Rather than just promoting a special fabric conditioner, they took it a step further by designing a stunning dress. Named “Herself”, the dress was the start of the Catalytic Clothing project. It was displayed at Newcastle ScienceFest from March 4 to April 11, 2011. The ScienceFest was held at King’s Gate, Newcastle University.

Model Erin O’Connor learned of the dress and its potential environmental benefits and agreed to wear the dress for a photo shoot.

In addition to the dress, Catalytic Clothing is also featuring more casual clothing; a line of jeans applied with the titanium dioxide solution.

According to Professor Ryan, a suit would have an application of about ten square meters of titanium dioxide, removing about five grams of nitrous dioxide each day. Says Ryan, “Let’s say there are 10 million people in London. So a conservative estimate would be that those 10 million people – if they only took one gram out each – that would take out ten tons of nitrous oxide in London every day.”

Photo credit: Helen Storey (Catalytic Clothing)

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