ECBC Working to Weave Chemical Agent Protection into Army Combat Uniform

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February 27, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: February 27 on

The U.S. armed services have long wished chemical warfare agent protective material could be inherently incorporated in everyday clothing, scarves, and even tents. Existing protective materials rely on carbon filtration, which only traps rather than reacts with the bonds of chemical agents, so they quickly reach saturation and can leach chemical agent out later. Also, they require a separate suit put on over the uniform plus a full-sized mask, costing precious time during a chemical attack and reducing combat performance once on.

ECBC scientists are now teaming up with scientists at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, and North Carolina State University in a collaborative effort to create a uniform that destroys chemical agents on contact using a new kind of molecule called metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs for short.

MOFs are nano-constructed materials made of organic struts consisting of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon, and metals, commonly copper, zinc, or zirconium, acting as nodes. They form three-dimensional crystalline structures much like an erector set. The lattice-shaped structures have large void spaces, called pores.

The latest form of MOF ECBC scientists are working with, dubbed UiO-66-NH2, is especially promising. It is very stable in air, and in acids and solvents. It can also pull water from the atmosphere, which enhances its ability to destroy chemical agents. Finally, it can also be expanded in size by adding more struts and nodes, allowing for faster destruction of chemical agents.