The Ideas for Change symposium held Friday at the Fashion Institute of Technology offered a window into the future of textile and material development.

Ideas for Change was intended to offer intellectual stimulation to round out the business strategizing following New York Textile Week that featured an array of trade fairs in the city.

Among the speakers were two scientists working with companies that are helping to establish new materials and methods to advance the textile and other sectors.

Razvan Popescu, chief operating officer and scientific adviser at DirectaPlus, discussed “Graphene: A Revolutionary Enabling Technology.”

Popescu called graphene, a material he’s been working to create from graphite for more than 10 years, “the wonder material.” This is due to its characteristics of “superelasticity,” strong thermal conductivity, and high tensile strength and surface area.

Presented in the form of nanoplatelets, Popescu said Graphene Plus, as it is being marketed, is “low-cost, with high production values, able to be used in multiple fields of operation.”

In a broader sense, Graphene Plus has begun to be tested and used in applications such as flexible electronic screens, polymers and composite materials, and in consumer products such as tennis racquets and high performance bicycle tires. As what he called a “superadditive” with a high absorption ratio, it also has potential use for heat dissipation in a variety of sectors.

This includes the textile and apparel fields, where Popescu, who holds a master’s degree in inorganic chemistry from the University Politehnica of Bucharest, sees the material’s value-added capabilities of antistatic heat dissipation, self-extinguishing, bacteriostatic and infrared shielding coming into use.

Among the categories where these properties would be beneficial are activewear, including T-shirts, golf shirts and outerwear. Graphene Plus also shows potential use for sports-performance rehabilitation measuring body-movement analysis.

Mark Dorfman, a biomimicry chemist at Biomimicry 3.8, which seeks to apply nature’s chemical strategies to the development of materials in the environmental and commercial fields, said there are a multitude of materials found in nature that have properties that can be used in fields such as textiles and appliances. Among nature’s attributes are strength, flexibility, shapes, colors, fragrances, degrees of softness and weight, biodegradability, resistance to water, and antibacterial, antislip and self-cleaning qualities.

“The functionality and the sustainability that we give to those materials all boils down to chemistry,” said Dorfman, discussing “Textiles Out of the Box.” “So many of our materials, whether they are synthetics derived from petroleum or if they natural materials, require a chain of processing that they must go through to then use them create the materials you want, which is then discarded.

He noted that at each of those steps, there is potential to contaminate the environment and threaten the health of workers and consumers. Dorfman stressed that chemicals are not just man-made, but found even in the most complex multicelluar organism, humans.

“But nature has figured out how to do chemistry without polluting the environment,” he told the audience at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheater. “It does chemistry while creating conditions conducive to life, actually sweetening the environment. So it makes sense that nature is a good place for us to look at sustainable chemistry.”

An example of textile-related biomimicry was a project Biomimicry worked on with Levi’s and the University of California at Berkley. This involved creating wrinkle-free and water-resistant fabrics that substituted undesirable chemicals such as formaldehyde with nature-based materials.

Dorfman summarized that with technology combining with what he called “additive manufacturing, we’re entering a sweet spot where biomimicry is not just a good idea, it is something that can deliver high-performing sustainable materials.”

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