Tony Ryan, as an individual (and with Helen Storey), knows how to provoke interest in a topic many of us find tired, air pollution. This time, Ryan and Storey have developed a laundry detergent additive through their Catalytic Clothing venture (mentioned previously in a Feb. 24, 2012 posting and in a July 8, 2011 posting). From Adele Peters’ July 22, 2014 article for Fast Company (Note: A link has been removed),
Here’s another reason cities need more pedestrians: If someone is wearing clothes that happened to be washed in the right detergent, just their walking down the street can suck smog out of the surrounding air.
For the last few years, researchers at the Catalytic Clothing project have been testing a pollution-fighting laundry detergent that coats clothing in nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide. The additive traps smog and converts it into a harmless byproduct. It’s the same principle that has been used smog-eating buildings and roads, but clothing has the advantage of actually taking up more space.
Kasey Lum in a June 25, 2014 article for Ecouterre describes the product as a “laundry additive [which] could turn clothing in mobile air purifiers,”
CatClo piggybacks the regular laundering process to deposit nanoparticles of titanium dioxide onto the fibers of the clothing. Exposure to light excites electrons on the particles’ surface, creating free radicals that react with water to make hydrogen peroxide. This, in turn, “bleaches out” volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere, according to Storey, rendering them harmless.
Lum referenced a May 23, 2014 article written by Helen Storey and Tony Ryan for the UK’s Guardian, newspaper which gives a history of their venture, Catalytic Clothing, and an update on their laundry additive (Note: Links have been removed),
It was through a weird and wonderful coincidence on BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Radio 4 that we met to discuss quantum mechanics and plastic packaging, resulting in the Wonderland Project, where we created disappearing gowns and bottles as a metaphor for a planet that is going the same way.
Spurred by this collaborative way of working, Wonderland led to Catalytic Clothing, a liquid laundry additive. The idea came out of conversations about how we could harness the surface of our clothing and the power of fashion to communicate complex scientific ideas – and so began the campaign for clean air.
(When I first wrote about Catalytic Clothing I was under the impression that it was an art/science venture focused on clothing as a means of cleaning the air. I was unaware they were working on a laundry additive.)
Getting back to Storey’s and Ryan’s article (Note: A link has been removed),
Catalytic Clothing (CatClo) uses existing technology in a radical new way. Photocatalytic surface treatments that break down airborne pollutants are widely applied to urban spaces, in concrete, on buildings and self-cleaning glass. The efficacy is greatly increased when applied to clothing – not only is there a large surface area, but there is also a temperature gradient creating a constant flux of air, and movement through walking creates our own micro-wind, so catalysing ourselves makes us the most effective air purifiers of them all.
CatClo contains nanoparticles of titania (TiO2) a thousand times finer than a human hair. [generally nanoscale is described as between 1/60,000 to 1/100,000 of a hair's width] When clothes are laundered through the washing process, particles are deposited onto the fibres of the fabric. When the catalysed clothes are worn, light shines on the titanium particles and it excites the electrons on the particle surface. These electrons cause oxygen molecules to split creating free-radicals that then react with water to make hydrogen peroxide. This then bleaches out the volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that are polluting the atmosphere.
The whole process is sped up when people, wearing the clothes, are walking down the street. The collective power of everyone wearing clothes treated with CatClo is extraordinary. If the whole population of a city such as Sheffield was to launder their clothes at home with a product containing CatClo technology they would have the power to remove three tonnes per day of harmful NOx pollution.
So, if the technology exists to clear the air, why isn’t it available? From Storey’s and Ryan’s article,
Altruism, is a hard concept to sell to big business. We have approached and worked with some of the world’s largest producers of laundry products but even though the technology exists and could be relatively cheap to add to existing products, it’s proved to be a tough sell. The fact that by catalysing your clothes the clean air you create will be breathed in by the person behind you is not seen as marketable.
A more serious issue is that photocatalysts can’t tell the difference between a bad pollutant and a “good” one; for example, it treats perfume as just another volatile organic compound like pollution. This is an untenable threat to an entire industry and existing products owned by those best able to take CatClo to market.
We’ve recently travelled to China to see whether CatClo could work there. China is a place where perfume isn’t culturally valued, but the common good is, so a country with one of the biggest pollution problems on the planet, and a government that isn’t hidebound by business as usual, might be the best place to start.
In the midst of developing their laundry additive, Storey and Ryan produced a pop-up exhibition, A Field of Jeans (first mentioned here in an Oct. 13, 2011 posting which lists events for the 2011 London Science Festival), to raise public awareness and support (from the article),
During the research period, we realised that there were more jeans on the planet than people. Knowing this, we launched a pop-up exhibition, A Field of Jeans. The jeans we catalysed are all recycled and as it turns out, because of the special nature of cotton denim, are the most efficacious fabric of all to support the catalysts.
The public have been overwhelmingly supportive; once fears about the “chemicals”, “nanotech” or becoming dirt magnets were dispelled, we captured people’s imagination and proved that CatClo could eventually be as normal as fluoride in toothpaste with enormous potential to increase wellbeing and clean up our polluted cities.
The pop-up exhibition is now at Thomas Tallis School in London (from the Catalytic Clothing homepage),
Field of Jeans is at Thomas Tallis school from December 2nd 2013 until further notice. Jeans can be viewed from Kidbrooke Park Road, London SE3 outside the main school entrance. This will inspire a piece of work across the school called Catalytic Learning. More will be posted here soon.
Click here for images
Here’s an image from the Field of Jeans,
I last featured Tony Ryan’s work here in a May 15, 2014 posting about a poem and a catalytic billboard at the University of Sheffield where Ryan is the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science.