Researchers develop a sensor that can detect firefighter’s protective clothing for safety as they age.
Firefighters risk their lives battling blazing fires, and the only thing they rely on for their protection is their protective gear. Aging protective gear can put their lives in danger. The fibers in the protective gear age and lose their performance.
Researchers from the University of Alberta are working with industry to reduce that risk with a sensor that can detect the gradual breakdown in garments from exposure to heat, moisture and ultraviolet (UV) light.
“These fibers age silently and lose their performance, so this sensor technology is a breakthrough in terms of safety for workers exposed to heat and flame,” said clothing and textiles scientist Patricia Dolez, the project’s lead researcher and an assistant professor in the U of A Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES).She added, “Damage to the garments may not be visible to the naked eye before performance is reduced considerably.”
The sensor will provide a way to monitor the garment for aging without having to take samples. The sensor patch uses graphene material to form conductive tracks on the patch’s surface. When exposure to heat, moisture or UV light exceeds a certain level, the graphene track is disrupted and loses its electrical conductivity.
“The current recommendation is to wash firefighting garments twice a year, but the problem is all the existing data that determines when the clothing needs to be replaced is based on that once- or twice-a-year washing,” Dolez said.
“The sensor could also be used in the oil and gas, electrical, construction and mining industries,” said Lelia Lawson, research and development specialist for Davey Textile Solutions.
The researchers are working with various textile industries. “Their collaboration ensures that what we develop will be relevant for industry. As researchers we can develop something that is a great idea, but if no one is able to produce it, it’s not useful,” Dolez said.