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Biomimetic fibres mimic pine cones in responce to humidity

MMT Textiles : 08 February, 2013  (New Product)
Humidity-responsive adaptive textiles respond to levels of humidity in the micro-climate, so that breathability improves as the material begins to saturate.

A UK start-up has unveiled the world’s first fibres that significantly improve the breathability of textiles in response to moisture. Inotek fibres alleviate the feeling of dampness by increasing the permeability of yarns and textiles as moisture builds up around them. This new technology will enable manufacturers of items like sports clothing, base layers, underwear, socks and bedding fabrics to bring new products to market that improve the comfort of their customers by keeping them dryer for longer and getting them dry quicker in extreme conditions.

The technology has been developed by leading Dr Veronika Kapsali, co-founder of MMT Textiles and an expert in clothing comfort and biomimetic materials. The US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Centre in Massachusetts have tested a range of textiles using Inotek patented fibres and validated all the resulting data.

Everyone who has worked up a sweat at the gym or been stuck on a crowded underground train on a humid day will know the discomfort caused by damp clothes. The sensation is particularly evident when moving into a cold environment as frequently happens when you leave the gym on a cold evening or when leaving your train on your daily commute.

Current smart textile systems aiming to reduce the discomfort caused by moving between hot and cold environments generally rely on temperature as a stimulus. However, Kapsali’s research revealed that managing the impact of humidity itself is a much more effective trigger in reducing levels of discomfort. The breathability of Inotek textiles improves gradually from the first point of elevated relative humidity up to optimum performance at the point of saturation. The risk of sweat stained clothing is, therefore, dramatically reduced.

Inotek's adaptive technology is inspired by the botanical structure of pine cones which open and close in response to moisture levels. Conventional fibres swell as they absorb moisture. Wool expands by up to 30% of its original width when wet. This causes the yarn to swell, reducing the permeability of the textile structure. Inotek fibres do the complete opposite. As the textile begins to absorb moisture, the fibres start to close (mimicking the pine cone) and reduce in volume, causing yarn to thin three-dimensionally in the cross-section. Microscopic air pockets are opened in the textile and this increases its breathability. In contrast to pure wool, an Inotek-wool blended yarn can reduce its thickness by up to 10% of its original width in damp conditions.

The reactive response to humidity is also reversible. Inotek fibres revert back to their original state in dry conditions, reducing air permeability and increasing insulation of the textile.  “The textile and fashion world is always looking for innovation and there is growing interest in the application of biological processes to make clothes more comfortable and practical. Ventilation is one area where we can learn much from successful adaptations in nature. Inotek fibre technology mimics the systems found in pine cones by responding to levels of humidity in the micro-climate. We call this the ‘pine cone effect’,” says Kapsali.

Natick verified Inotek's performance during a series of tests on textiles developed with 100% Inotek yarn and various blends of Inotek with natural fibres, such as Merino wool and other commercial fibres such as Tencel. All the tested samples displayed significantly improved air permeability at 98% relative humidity against the relevant test and control samples.

MMT Textiles Limited is now taking Inotek technology to market. MMT have development agreements in place with clothing brands, yarn producers and textile manufacturers including Burlington Worldwide, a manufactgurer of performance synthetics based in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bill DiIanni, Director of Research & Development at Burlington Labs says: “Burlington Worldwide believes that the pursuit of technological innovation drives the development, production and marketing of better textiles for our customers. We believe that MMT’s Inotek fibre technology will significantly benefit end-user comfort. We are currently in the process of developing a textile range in association with MMT and look forward to announcing further details in the near future.”

Professor Sandy Black at the London College of Fashion is also excited by the development. “In an oversaturated consumer market, innovation is key to producing new holistic solutions that meet our needs and are of lasting benefit. The dream of multifunctional fabrics that respond to environmental conditions for greater comfort and wellbeing is brought a stage nearer by the development of Inotek.”

Stuart Ailion, Managing Director of MMT Textiles Ltd expects this initial interest to grow and diversify into new sectors. “The basic polymers we use to create Inotek fibres are readily available commercially. We have pioneered an engineering process that combines the polymers in such a way that the fibres adapt to micro-environmental conditions. This technology will have a significant impact on the comfort levels wearers can expect from Inotek textiles. It is totally unique, adaptive and inspired by nature. Our business model is based on licensing the technology and ensuring access to the bulk supply of fibres to companies who can produce textiles for a diverse range of applications that will benefit from the advanced management of their response to humidity. There are so many products which could benefit from Inotek. MMT can ensure the supply of spun fibres and processed yarns through our approved manufacturers to almost any requirement.”

Obvious applications include a variety of clothing products such as sports and outdoor wear. There is also strong potential within non-clothing products including bedding, where more efficient moisture management would be of huge benefit to those suffering from night time  hot flushes and wound dressing, where Inotek’s unique breathable technology could control moisture levels beneath the dressing, enhancing comfort whilst offering the same level of protection from infection.

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