Science & Exploration


25/05/2016 2252 views 22 likes
ESA / Science & Exploration / Human and Robotic Exploration / Couture in orbit

A material used to protect cables, filter aviation fuel and help preserve food – is increasingly making its way into high-performance clothing as well. Dr Mark Paterson, Product Development Director of Technical Absorbents Ltd, gives the low-down on SAF.

K-Sorb is our signature material containing our ‘Super Absorbent Fibre’, or SAF. SAF can absorb up to 200 times its own weight in water or 60 times for salt water (20 times for 3.5% saline, 60 times for 0.9% saline).

Quite flexible and durable in nature, K-Sorb material can be used to keep its wearer dry from sweat. Using K-Sorb as part of a carefully tailored composite fabric, a typically sized jacket could absorb around 4.5 litres of sweat before becoming fully saturated. 

Alternatively, SAF fabrics can be designed for use in specialist types of desert or heat-protection products, essentially ‘pre-loaded’ with water to keep its wearer cool for a prolonged period of time. Wearing an ordinary wet T-shirt just wouldn’t do the same job because that water reservoir would be so much smaller.

Numerous SAF fabrics have been developed to be washable – although obviously this has to be carefully managed to deal with their inherent water-absorbency. But they can typically be washed 20–30 times before performance is reduced, or else dry-cleaned.

It all comes down to chemistry: our SAF fibres have a high surface area to core ratio, giving them a very rapid and high absorbency. Basic absorbents have been around as a bulk commodity since the 1960s. Our company was founded back in 1993 as a joint venture between an absorbent specialist and a fibre producer. 

K-Sorb used by UK firefighters
K-Sorb used by UK firefighters

The resulting SAF products have found all kinds of industrial uses in the hands of our downstream customers. Chances are you have used some of our superabsorbent products without knowing it. They include all kinds of everyday uses – including absorbent cloth found under meat or fish in supermarket packaging across the world – and filtration and purification systems, hygiene, even cable insulation.

It was around the late 1990s that we got into the area of apparel, encouraged in the first instance by enquiries from our customers, wanting to know if we could improve on the performance of existing materials. The main spin-off has been into the sporting market, as well as specialist workwear. We’re constantly looking into improving all areas of our product portfolio, to come up with improved types of SAF material as well as to develop bespoke products for customer needs.

So we’re enthusiastic about the opportunity of working with the student designers of Couture in Orbit. From our initial meeting they’ve been thinking hard about how they can use SAF materials, from simple moisture management to actually using it within sensors.

It’s a good opportunity to get fresh thoughts and ideas, and we look forward to the results. 

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