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Thermal fabric attracts commercial interest.

Thermal Fabric Attracts Commercial Interest

A new Iowa firm and one of Japan's largest companies have been licensed to develop products using a U.S. Department of Agriculture-patented process that makes fabrics respond to changes in temperature.

"NeutraTherm of Des Moines and Mitsui & Company of Tokyo have received exclusive licenses for the process called Polytherm," says M. Ann Whitehead. She coordinates the national patent program for USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

"Temperature-adaptable textiles with built-in thermostats warm you when you're cold and cool you when you're hot," says Tyrone L. Vigo, a chemist at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. He and colleague Joseph S. Bruno invented the treatment in 1985. [See Agricultural Research, March 1988 p. 16 and April 1987 pp. 14-15.]

Vigo and Bruno treated fabrics with a class of chemicals called PEG's, short for polyethylene glycols. In laboratory tests the fabric absorbed and stored heat when the temperature rose and released it when the temperature dropped.

Depending on the kind of material treated, the chemical applied, and the amount used, "a 50- to 100-percent increase in heat absorption or release is probably a realistic goal," Vigo says.

"NeutraTherm is developing the thermal technology for clothes worn next to the skin and for biomedical products such as surgical gowns and dressings for medical personnel and patients," says Steven Harlan, M.D., president of the Iowa-based company. Last fall, his company introduced a line of thermal inner/outer sportswear.

Members of the U.S. Olympic Ski Team tested treated T-shirts, and members of the Professional Ski Instructors of America tested stylized long underwear provided by the company, says Denny Watkins, director of operations.

A Mitsui subsidiary, Intertex Inc., is developing skiwear - jackets, pants, gloves, and shoe linings. According to president Hiroke Umazaki, the company is planning a March exhibit of their line of skiwear in Tokyo. They next plan to market underwear.

According to Whitehead, under terms of the licensing agreement, Intertex "cannot export any ski sportswear or biomedical products made using the ARS-patented technology. The products can be sold and used only in Japan. Also, the company will provide us with complete feedback on any research findings."

ARS research had shown that fabrics treated with PEG's had high water absorbency, excellent soil release, less pilling (lint balls), and improved durable-press wear and antistatic qualities.

NeutraTherm has been working with Vigo and Bruno for about 3 years perfecting their thermal technology. "We are finding that treated garments have several other qualities that are commercially attractive," says Watkins.

"Trials with NeutraTherm-treated socks worn for 3 consecutive days showed they did not pick up the characteristics foot odor from bacterial growth caused by heat and sweat, unlike their untreated counterpart," he says.

Further testing of the underwear confirmed that the PEG polymer treatment imparts antibacterial qualities to the garment.

Data from a questionnaire completed by the ski team and others who wore socks and T-shirts suggested that treated garments were wind-resistant.

Wickers International, Long Island, New York, will be introducing new high-tech products using the PEG polymer this spring. NeutraTherm is planning on introducing their own line of inner/outer wear and glove liners as well as hunting and sking socks early this year.

High-tech material using the NeutraTherm polymer will include microwavable gloves that retain heat to help prevent frostbite and to aid people suffering from Raynaud's disease, an arterial disorder of the fingers.

"In the near future, as NeutraTherm develops its own products, we plan to sublicense the technology for use in socks, facial masks, hats and gloves, and other ski clothing and sportswear, as well as biomedical products," Watkins says. "We have been talking with several large manufacturers of these items both here and abroad."

PHOTO : To determine the surface temperature of a fabric sample placed in front of heat source,

PHOTO : research chemists Tyrone Vigo (left) and Joseph Bruno utilize an infrared camera that displays heat industry as various shades of color on a video monitor. (K-3835-15)

PHOTO : A sample of fabric prepared for testing on a differential scanning calorimeter to

PHOTO : determine the fabric's heating and cooling capacity. (K-3834-8)
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Title Annotation:temperature-adaptable fabrics inspire product development
Author:Becker, Hank
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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