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New Paint Could Protect Against Chemical Warfare

October 27, 2009

Scientists are currently working on a new paint coating for military vehicles to essentially absorb a chemical warfare agent and then decontaminate itself.

The paint is being developed by the UK’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) in hopes of providing protection for those operating in or around a vehicle after a chemical attack.

The technology would be adapted from “strippable” coatings already being utilized to temporarily camouflage vehicles, BBC News reported.

According to Dr Steven Mitchell of DSTL’s headquarters at Porton Down in Wiltshire, the next generation of coatings could be made to soak up chemical warfare agents.

Scientists are also looking into eventually engineering reactive coatings, which would have built-in catalysts and possibly even enzymes that would enable the paint to “self-decontaminate”.

“Ultimately, what we’d like to create is a coating that changes colour to indicate it’s been contaminated, decontaminates itself, then returns to the original colour when it’s clean,” said Dr. Mitchell.

“This is a long-term but not unreasonable ultimate objective.”

Strippable coatings are currently used when a new camouflage is necessary, causing a vehicle’s color to change from green to “light stone”, for example, so that it looks like part of the desert terrain.

The paint can also change the vehicle’s “glint signature” by keeping the sun from reflecting off the vehicle, which would make it visible to enemy troops despite the use of camouflage.

The technology has been a collaborative work between DSTL and industry partner Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings.

“There are a number of advantages to this technology. One is its flexibility; it is easy to apply and easy to remove. You can change your color or your signature in theater in a relatively straightforward manner,” Dr. Mitchell explained to BBC News.

“It’s a single pack emulsion. It looks much like paint you’d find in a DIY store for painting your house. So you could apply it with a paint brush, or you could apply it with a roller. It’s really flexible,” he said.

That’s important for potential use in theatre because you might not have a sophisticated paint spray system available.”

Dr. Mitchell said DSTL is now working in partnership with the industry to make another version of the coating that is able to absorb most of a liquid chemical warfare agent.

“That helps prevent the contact hazard. It also helps prevent people touching the surface and spreading the contamination,” he explained.

Certain parts of vehicles, like tracks and running gear, are not suitable for the application of a coating and would still need liquid decontamination.

Dr. Mitchell went on to say, “”¦we’d also like to put some chemistry into the coating that would then react with and decontaminate the agent itself. And then perhaps even a color change to tell you that process has been successful and the agent has been destroyed.”

He did emphasize that these are long-term research goals. He said, “Clearly, there are a lot of technical hurdles to be overcome to develop something this sophisticated.” 

While current research centers around chemical warfare agents, scientists are also interested in methods that might combat radiological and biological agents.

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