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Catalytic Clothing: Mobile Air Pollution Fighter?

| Friday July 15th, 2011 | 3 Comments

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In the past 5-7 years, the idea of green living and taking personal responsibility for the health of the environment at large, has gotten a lot of play. If you were to judge by the amount of media coverage and appearances in television, film, etc, it would seem a huge number of people are shifting their behavior in an increasingly sustainable direction. The statistics do not bear this out.

What’s going on?

Whether by cost, habit or any number of factors, people’s actions aren’t as yet squaring with their expressed awareness/desire for action.  One simple solution to take a small bite out of the problem is being realized right now in the UK, where all you’d be required to do to make a meaningful impact on air quality is walk down the street.

How so?

Catalytic Clothing, a collaboration between designer/artist Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan is creating clothing that uses photocatalytic (light activated catalysts) where, as they put it,

When the light shines on the photocatalyst, the electrons in the material are rearranged and they become more reactive. These electrons are then able to react with the water in the air and break it apart into 2 radicals. A radical is an extremely reactive molecule. These radicals then react with the pollutants and cause them to break down into non-harmful chemicals.

Now, the next question you may have is, how much impact does one person wearing this clothing really make? They say,

An estimate of the required level of uptake for the Catalytic Clothing indicates that a significant reduction in the level of airborne pollutants in a large city such as London could be achieved if, for every metre of pavement width, 30 people wearing Catalytic Clothes walked past each minute.

That may seem an impossible figure to maintain, let alone achieve. Still, if this technology were to become capable of inclusion in mass scale brands such a Levis, Nike and the like, that figure could easily be met and even exceeded in high population density cities, the very ones most prone to high levels of automobile borne air pollutants in concentrated locations.

So what exactly is the technology behind this?

The photocatalyst is delivered to the surface of the clothing during the traditional laundry procedure as an additive within a standard product such as a fabric conditioner. The active agent is packaged within a shell that is attracted towards, and subsequently binds to, the surface of the clothing during the washing cycle.

And though it’s new to clothing, this technology is already in use in commercially available products like paint, cement and paving stones.

The implications are rather substantial. No far off theoretical possibility, this technology is finding its way into applications that can make use of people simply being outside, and of buildings that have no need for outside participation to produce the desired results. While it is not a panacea for all the airborne pollutants out there, and efforts should continue to create viable alternatives to the sources of them, photocatalytic pollution reducers are an intriguing, immediate, personal way to address the issue.

This video artfully explains what Catalytic Clothing is about:

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Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Image Credit: Catalytic Clothing demo video screen capture


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  • http://www.terracycle.co.uk Jacob Ballard

    This technology is great, I really would like to know the cost of it. If the photocatalyst is bound to the clothing in a wash cycle would it be possible to sell this as an additive to laundry detergent? Possibly pair with current laundry detergent brands to further expand the product. There are many great uses for this product if it can be developed further.

    • Paul Arthur Smith

      Great questions/ideas Jacob. They’re in London, the site has contacts, I say reach out directly!

  • Runlobster

    Is this nanotechnology safe for the person waring the treated clothing?  
    If the rearranged electrons react with the water in the air, can it not react with sweat on the skin, and what would be the result of these 2 radicals on the skin?
    If it can be proven to be nontoxic to humans, or even have a beneficial “antioxidant” effect , I’d be all for the use of catalytic clothing treatment.