Protecting U.S. Troops with Fireproof Wool
May 1, 2008
Wool is less susceptible to burning than
synthetic fibers. This makes it an ideal fabric for uniforms worn by U.S.
troops, firefighters and others whose occupations expose them to fire.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
chemist Jeanette M.
Cardamone has discovered and patented a heat-resistant material that can be
incorporated into wool and other fabrics to match the flame resistance of
commercial firefighters' uniforms.
The material was developed at the request of the U.S. militaryone of
the largest markets for domestic woolto offer U.S. troops protection
against fire-related injuries. Burning wool produces a soft ash that won't
lodge in open wounds, unlike synthetic materials, which can bead and drip into
In an earlier project, Cardamone worked with colleagues at the ARS
Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa., to develop
"biopolished" wool that is both machine-washable and itch-free.
Nine companies have expressed an interest in obtaining a license on the
biopolished wool technology, and the ARS
of Technology Transfer has issued one license for it. The biopolished wool
already has many desirable properties, so it's a natural choice for developing
a fabric with improved flame retardancy.
Working with visiting scientist Anand Kanchagar, Cardamone improved the
flame retardancy of the biopolished wool by treating it with a heat-resistant
polymer that is stable, easy to process and highly tolerant of extreme
temperatures. Early tests have shown that the burning behavior of the
polymer-treated ARS wool compares to a 50/50 blend of wool with
Nomex, the fabric
currently used in protective firefighting gear.
The scientists are experimenting with different methods to further enhance
the wool's heat-resistant and flame-retardant properties. Cardamone and her
colleagues are seeking an industrial collaborator to work with on applying the
treatment to fabrics for laundering durability.
more about this research in the May/June 2008 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.