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Topic of the month: Commercialization potential of nanofiber textile membranes - Opinions of Professor Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi

05/05/2012
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Professor Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi is a member of the Nafigate Advisory Commitee. He is an Executive Director of The Nonwovens Institute at North Carolina State University (USA) and expert in nanofiber textile membranes.
Nafigate team has interviewed prof. Pourdeyhimi about his main field of interest.
This is what he had to say:

Nanofiber membranes for textile applications are one of the fastest growing market segments for nanofibers. Why?

Nanofiber membranes continue to attract significant attention as a pathway to advanced functional textile producers. This partly because nanofibers structures enable the formation of a wide array of specially engineered functional textile composites in a number of critical applications. An area that can benefit from such structures is sportswear – here, the garments are required to function under extremely different weather conditions; from extreme cold to extremely warm and humid conditions.

 Which technical parameters of the membranes are most important?

There are contradictory requirements in such products that need to be engineered. In some cases, breathability is more important and water column can be compromised, while in other situations, the opposite is true. Nanofiber materials offer great versatility due to their rather open structure and the wide choice of polymers readily available (polyurethanes, polyamides, PVDF, etc.). Even more stringent requirements need to be met for military uniforms; one of the early pioneering work in this area was led by a team of well-known scientists at NATICK soldier center over ten years ago where military uniforms were being “coated” with functional polyurethane nanofibers webs.

Why are these products so attractive to investors?

Nanofiber membranes for textile composites for sportswear and military uniforms represent a major and perhaps one of the largest opportunities for commercialization where significant continued growth is generally expected. I had the fortune to be invited as one of the innovators to the VF innovation fair last month. The VF Corporation had selected the top 100 innovations for textiles, and one was a hybrid knitted/nanofibers membrane composite…

How do you see the readiness to enter the market of the nanofiber membrane products?

Some products are already on the market; however, these are still in their infancy. Such structures must be optimized with respect to the specific requirements and demands placed on these structures. A single solution cannot surely be the answer to the variety of needs in these segments. Due to the commercial availability of industrial scale and proven production technology (e.g. Nanospider from Elmarco), this subject is an excellent candidate for a commercialization or technology transfer project. 

What are the major challenges on their path to market adoption?

 To enable widespread adoption of hybrid nanofibers textile based composites requires that a number of challenges be overcome. A few but important tasks are:

- Optimization of membrane design for specific applications identified by a market intelligence study,

- Search/improvement of reliable control system for the technology, providing on-line data on fiber

diameter and basis weight of the produced material,

- Polymer optimization, including materials for melt-electrospinning.

 

(Professor Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi is a member of NAFIGATE Advisory Commitee. He is Executive Director of The Nonwovens Institute, Associate Dean for Industry Research and Extension of College of Textiles, and Director of the Nonwoven Cooperative Research Center (NCRC) at The Nonwovens Institute at North Carolina State University)