U.S. chemists develop superomniphobic, chemical-resistant fabric

Chemists in the United States recently developed a material equally good at repelling concentrated acid and alkali solutions, non-Newtonian polymer solutions, and potentially chemical weapons.

The chemical-resistant properties and simple, scalable production process used to produce it makes the material promising for the development of protective and self-cleaning service applications. Anish Tuteja, a researcher from the University of Michigan and an inventor of the material, tested its ability to withstand a chemical weapon challenge, according to RSC.org.

Tuteja and his team covered one side of aluminum plates with the material and then submerged them into baths of concentrated hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide. The uncoated aluminum quickly degraded, but the covered aluminum suffered no damage.

Two aspects of the material's construction are primarily responsible for its protective characteristics, according to Tuteja. It is produced using a fine stainless steel wire mesh coated with a layer of polymer beads made from a mixture of polydimethylsiloxane and fluorodecyl polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane.

The spherical shape of the beads gives it the surface the geometry it needs to become superomniphobic, while it also traps pockets of air to keep the agents from touching the actual material. Additionally, the surface energy of the material is lowered by the migration of fluorinated POSS molecules.

The material, unfortunately, has one major flaw. Tuteja admits it is not very strong.

"If you scratch it too much, it does peel off, and that's a big problem with a lot of coatings of this type," Tuteja said, RSC.org reports. "However, we're working on a new generation of coatings which is much more mechanically durable."