Revolutionary TTU cotton product could protect troops, clean up oil spills

Revolutionary TTU cotton product could protect troops, clean up oil spills
Texas Tech Professor of Technical Textiles Seshadri Ramkumar
Texas Tech Professor of Technical Textiles Seshadri Ramkumar

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - It starts as cotton straight from the bale, but in less than a minute, it turns into a powerful nonwoven wipe called "FiberTect."

"[It is] fiber that protects, hence the name 'FiberTect,'" creator and Texas Tech Professor of Technical Textiles Seshadri Ramkumar said.

Originally developed to protect the U.S. military from chemical and biological agents, Ramkumar obtained the patent for FiberTect back in 2009 and has been developing the product for the past 15 years. He said FiberTect is the product of a "mind-to-market" process called "translational research."

"Now, the U.S. academia is geared towards more to transferring the research and the knowledge that is developed in the classrooms and the laboratories and see how you could develop products and some useful materials, which will help the society," Ramkumar said. "We did this in a way where we took a product and material that is of strategic importance, economic importance for which Texas Tech is worldly known - cotton."

FiberTect is one of the first Texas Tech products to be commercialized. Ramkumar described it as "platform technology" that can decontaminate everything from small nooks to military equipment and is porous enough to tackle volatile oil spills and toxic vapors, attracting influential customers including the U.S. Department of Defense.

"It can have applications in multiple industries such as oil, and gas, utility, automobile - you name it," Ramkumar said.

The dry absorbent is based on a "sandwich" concept.

"You put those two cotton layers in between this charcoal, which will hold the vapors, and the cotton will take away the liquid," Ramkumar said. "It attacks both liquid and vapor."

Ramkumar's lab is located in the Reese Technology Center, but FiberTect is manufactured in Hobbs Bonded Fibers in Waco. Ramkumar says making FiberTect does not involve any chemicals. It is achieved through a mechanical process called needlepunching.

"The needlepunching is very useful for this because it's highly productive, so the cost of manufacturing is less," Ramkumar said. "[It] basically helps bond one layer into the middle layer."

While the Ramkumar said the road to generate profit for Texas Tech is still a long one, he has high hopes for the future of FiberTect.

"You need to have somebody get interested in to market, so we have gone to that stage," Ramkumar said. "Obviously, that will be very useful and helpful to Texas Tech, so my intention is to have the marketing size of it to be larger than what it is now."

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