The swatch of Army uniform fabric on the right has been treated with a special coating, making it super liquid repellent. Three drops of grape juice sit on top. The un-coated swatch on the left could not keep the grape juice from soaking in. (U.S. Army photo)
U.S. Army scientists have developed an advanced coating for fabrics that could make soldier uniforms much more effective at repelling water, oil and many other liquid chemicals.
This durable "omniphobic" coating is much more repellent than Quarpel – a water-repellent coating that has been used for the past 40 years, Army officials maintain.
"It's omniphobic. That means it hates everything," Quoc Truong, a physical scientist at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, said in an Army press release.
Truong and other Army scientist developed the coating to ensure “minimal impact to Army fabrics' original physical properties and performances, such as comfort, while providing added repellency to water, oil and toxic chemicals," the release states.
The coating greatly reduces how often soldiers need to clean their clothes and enhances chem-bio protection, according to Army officials.
Uniforms treated with the coating then underwent field testing to assess field durability, performance and user acceptance.
"We tested it, and the soldiers really liked it," said Truong. "The treated fabric also has an anti-microbial additive. It slows microbe growth that causes odors. Some soldiers had asked to keep their uniforms after the field tests. However, it was essential to collect these field-tested uniforms for a post-field-test evaluation to assess their liquid-shedding performance and durability."
Truong provided technical guidance and direction to Natick’s industry partner, Luna Innovations, Inc., to develop the coating.
UltraTech International, Inc., has been working with NSRDEC partner Luna Innovations to market the omniphobic coating, and it has made this material available commercially under the name of Ultra-Ever ShieldTM.
The technology is being applied to everything from outdoor wear to diapers, Army officials maintain.
It’s still unclear just how breathable the uniforms treated with the coating will be, Army officials say.
Additional military uses are also already in the works. Truong said that right now the coating is for textiles, but Natick is working with a team of academic and industry partners to develop super-omniphobic coatings.
The next generation of self-cleaning technology could be used on leather boots and gloves. Down the road, the self-cleaning technology may be possibly applied to flexible/hard surfaces, such as goggles, visors, shelters, and marine structures such as ship hulls.
"We've just scratched the surface, as far as applications go," Truong said.