- Scientists in the United States have
designed a revolutionary new carbon fibre they claim could have protected
Iraqi Kurds from some of the lethal chemical weapons used during the Iraq-Iran
- The new and relatively inexpensive form
of fibre - which has the potential to render chemical and germ warfare
obsolete in future - is more efficient and tougher than the activated carbon
granules widely used today in domestic and industrial air and water systems.
- The material is so fine that - even when
used as a handkerchief - it can trap and immobilise individual airborne
viruses (such as Ebola, Lassa fever and hantaviruses), bacteria (such as
anthrax), nerve-destroying gases and other deadly agents of chemical warfare.
- ``Heating the fibre containing these
agents to over 200 degrees, or passing an electric current through it,
would then kill off the viruses or bacteria, while enabling the material
to be used again,'' said Professor Jim Economy, a materials scientist at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- The fibre - made from a special glass-coated
resin and activated by extreme heat - is not unlike the kinds of heat shields
used to protect spacecraft during their re-entry through the earth's atmosphere.
- ``By rendering the weapons useless, it
could finally put an end to biological and chemical warfare,'' said Professor
Economy, who is attending the World Polymer Congress on the Gold Coast,
which ends tomorrow.
- Carbon granules, with an annual market
in the region of $800million, are one of the world's great cleansing agents.
They may be employed for ``scrubbing'' gases, for removing colors, odors,
toxins and pesticides from drinking water, and in the food and beverage-processing
- Activated carbon, in one form or another,
is also used widely in the recovery of gold during ore processing. But
existing forms of activated carbon can only reduce concentrations of gases
down to 10 to 30 parts per million.
- The new activated carbon fibres, on the
other hand, can reduce gas concentrations down to several parts per billion.
- The technology has a raft of other applications:
from protective gloves and masks to whole suits for laboratory scientists.
- The new fibres - which may be specifically
designed to absorb or filter out certain molecules of a particular size
to improve such products as water filters and industrial cleansers - should
be on the market within about a year, Professor Economy said.