Besides the production of protective equipment and face masks, the textile industry is also working on numerous virus protection solutions. 16 textile research institutes and numerous medium-sized textile companies in Germany are developing new antibacterial and antiviral textiles.
The new study “Perspectives 2035”, which has just been published by Gesamtverband der deutschen Textil- und Modeindustrie e.V. (textil+mode), Berlin/Germany, is already taking a look at this health and medical market. For Johannes Diebel, head of the Forschungskuratorium Textil e.V. (FKT), Berlin, the corona pandemic shows an example of how pathogens can still spread in no time despite all hygiene regulations. German textile research offers numerous new technical approaches that can be used to combat the spread of germs and viruses more effectively.
Experts and researchers agree that completely new global markets will emerge here. German textile research has prepared well, with successful research projects that now need to be put into practice in the fight against Corona. Once again it shows that “textiles can do a lot!”
Crab shells as a weapon against bacteria
Textile materials which have an antibiotic effect per se are of interest for the successful control of pathogens. Chitosan belongs to these substances. It is part of the crab shells that occur in fishing every year on a thousand-ton scale. Chitosan is hemostatic, has antibacterial properties and bactericidal and fungicidal effects. This makes it ideal for medical applications. Pure chitosan yarn materials are not yet available. At the Institute for Textile Machinery and Textile High-Performance Material Technology (ITM), Dresden/Germany, an environmentally compatible spinning technology for the production of chitosan yarns has been developed with which bioactive and allergen-free textile products can be manufactured. Ionic liquids are used here for the production of chitosan spinning solutions. This opens up a new market for yarn manufacturers and finishers as well as producers of organic clothing textiles and medical textiles.
Fig. 2: Yarns made from chitosan are antibiotic
Artificial skin for testing
In the fight against Corona, we are always reminded to wash our hands and to avoid shaking hands. Alternatively, hands can be disinfected regularly. There are various hand disinfectants available on the market today that work against both viruses and bacteria. The production of new, highly effective disinfectants (virucides) has so far been hindered by complex test procedures. Test subjects are required for the tests. First of all, they have to be found, which costs time and money. The test subjects also have to visit the test centers separately, which involves additional effort.
A new test method was therefore developed at the Hohenstein Institute for Textile Innovation gGmbH, Bönnigheim/Germany, which does not require any test subjects. It is a standardized technical skin model that is comparable in functionality to human skin. A standardized mechanism was also developed that simulates rubbing the disinfectant onto the skin. Tests have meanwhile shown that the new method achieves comparable results. The skin model can also be used to study how viruses are transmitted from various surfaces to the skin. This helps to improve disinfection processes in order to better break infection chains like corona in the future.
Fig. 3: Artificial skin for testing
Detect germs more reliably
In order to fight bacteria and viruses effectively, it is also important to detect them on different surfaces. Patients who have certain germs on their skin can then be treated with special drugs. Objects, however, can be cleaned quickly before the pathogens spread. For this purpose, wiping samples are today taken with swabs in order to subsequently determine the pathogens in the laboratory. It is important that the germs remain viable in the wipe sample - only then can they be detected later in the laboratory. So far, whether sampling is successful depends on several factors: the swab material, the type of bacteria and the handling. In order to be able to take even more reliable wipe samples in the future, the DWI - Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials, Aachen/Germany, and the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, Mönchengladbach/Germany, have now developed a new generation of swabs that are independent of the influencing factors swab material, type of bacteria and handling. These consist of super microfibers, which gently absorb the germs through capillary forces. The absorption and release of the bacteria are so efficient that the factors mentioned above are no longer relevant. In future, the swabs can be used for diagnosing wounds, precaution or even hygiene tests of surfaces.
Fig. 4: Efficient swab system for precise laboratory diagnostics and targeted antibiosis or disinfection
“Acid” metal oxides lower the PH value
Completely new types of yarn do not always have to be developed. It is often enough to coat yarns with new germ-inhibiting substances. At the Hohenstein Institute, Bönnigheim/Germany, for example, textiles were coated with so-called Lewis acidic metal oxides, which show antimicrobial activity. These include the compounds molybdenum, tungsten, tantalum and niobium oxide. These are particularly suitable for use as technical textiles - for example for filters or home textiles. These functionalized textiles can help to reduce the basic contamination of the environment with germs. The project showed that the metal oxides can lower the PH value from 3.5 to 5.5. Acidification inhibits the growth of various types of bacteria. Experiments with a model surface showed that 99.9% of the bacteria are killed at room temperature within 18 hours.