US Discovery May Signal
End To Most Bio-Chemical
Warfare Threats
By Peter Spinks
The Age (Austrailia,)

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 war.
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 industries.
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.

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