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Researchers Developed a New Water Repellent Vegan Leather

Researchers at The Ohio State University, have made huge progress in the field of Nanotechnology while carrying out research at the labs of Ohio State University, USA, during which they made Nanotexture coating for synthetic leather that repels water and oil keeping the surface protected for years to come.

The work carried out by the research team comprising the lab’s director Prof. Bharat Bhushan’s and IIT alumnus Dev Gurera is being acclaimed as an important landmark in the field of Nanotechnology.

Prof Bhushan, said the nano-engineered texture was inspired by nature and has properties of the Lotus leaf. He said the invention has huge potential for extensive use for furniture, automotive interiors, clothing, shoes and handbags and any products for which people use synthetic leather.

Bhushan, who specializes in biomimetics, said people who often worry about staining their favourite leather-look jackets or had to peel bare legs from a sticky vinyl car seat in the summer, this nanocoating is going to provide a lasting solution. He said it can be compared with self-cleaning glass and a mesh that separates oil from water.

Prof Howard Winbigler of mechanical engineering at Ohio State, who also remained associated with the research said, “It is the first time someone has managed to fabricate synthetic leather that is not just water resistant, but super-liquiphobic as it repels both water and oil-based liquids, besides, being heat resistant.”

Explaining the invention, Dev Gurera, IIT Ropar alumnus, said synthetic leather is made from fabric coated with plastic, usually polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Both PVC and PU can be moulded into flat sheets with grooves that give it a leather-like texture.

Like genuine leather, synthetic leather is somewhat permeable to liquids. Unlike genuine leather, it gets sticky at high temperatures because heat softens the plastic surface.

He said in their previous experiments of creating water- and oil-repellent surfaces, the researchers tried to create a bumpy texture by spraying a coating of silica nanoparticles on the surface of the synthetic leather.

In these images, researchers place a drop of oil on an untreated piece of synthetic leather (top, left to right) and a piece of treated synthetic leather (bottom, left to right). After treatment, the oil rolls off.

Gurera, who is the doctoral student at the university, said they quickly discovered that the plasticizers in the synthetic leather, that is, the chemicals that give plastic its plasticity, prevented the nano-particles from sticking, especially inside the leather-look grooves.

So they cleaned the surface with an ultraviolet light treatment commonly used in computer chip manufacturing following which the nano-particles stuck to the cleaned synthetic leather, creating a bumpy surface.

Bhushan said coated texture also exhibited durability and heat resistance up to 70-degree temperature making it the next big thing in all areas where synthetic leather is being used.

Vegan leather has come leaps and bounds since the first known animal-hide-free products launched in the early 20th century, before becoming more popular in the 1960s. Today, products made with vegan materials are in high demand, as they tend to be lower in price than animal products, yet possess many of the same qualities.

The animal-free leather is more efficient to develop, as it takes less time, requires no slaughter, and produces far fewer emissions than traditional leather. In contrast, making genuine leather requires animals to be bred, raised, and killed for their hides that then undergo a lengthy materialization process.

Leather-style products can be made out of many different plant items. Mushrooms and apple skin can be processed into “leather” materials for products such as shoes, watches, and bags. And over the past couple of years, scientists have developed a strain of yeast that assembles into an animal-free “Zoa bio-leather,” using a fermentation process similar to brewing beer.
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