When textile material is used as a support for the chemical auxiliaries, the reaction can proceed on a large surface thereby increasing its efficiency. One of the catalysts that the researchers used in this way plays an important role in the synthesis of a pharmaceutical agent which could only be used previously in dissolved form, making the production process very complicated and expensive.
Immobilizing this catalyst on fabric simplifies production considerably. This process may be expected to yield similar advantages for other chemical processes.
Functional textiles are usually understood as the textiles used to make windproof jackets, breathable footwear and particularly effective thermal underwear. However, the term could soon refer to something else – textiles which are “functionalized” with the help of organic catalysts.
Working in collaboration with scientists from the Deutsches Textilforschungszentrum in Krefeld and Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, Korea, researchers at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr have developed a process for immobilizing different organic catalysts on textiles with the help of ultraviolet light. The fabric thereby acts as a support for the substances on which a chemical reaction occurs.
Up to now, science has focused more on the macroscopic functionality of textiles, for example clothing, explains Ji-Woong Lee who recently completed his doctorate at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung under the supervision of Benjamin List, head of the Institute’s Homogenous Catalysis Group. “As opposed to this, our method can give simple textiles microscopic functionalities,” explains the Korean scientist. Together with his colleagues, Lee armed pieces of nylon with catalysts. The latter can be imagined as chemical tools which fulfil various tasks during chemical reactions.
Excellent yields, little wear and tear
For their tests, the Mühlheim-based researchers used three organic catalysts: a base (dimethylaminopyridine, DMAP), a sulfonic acid and a catalyst which functions as both an acid and a base. The latter is used in the pharmaceuticals industry to steer a reaction to one of two products, which are chemically completely identical. The two forms have mirror-image structures, like a left and right hand, but only one variant has the desired medical effect. Up to now, the catalyst that generates this variant could only be used in dissolved form and then had to be separated again. The complicated separation process could be avoided using a catalyst immobilized on fabric.
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