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British boffins perfect process to make any item '100% waterproof'

Gore-Tex killer?

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UK company Plasma Product Innovations (P2i) today demonstrated a chemical process it claims can render any material 100 per cent waterproof.

Grappling at an ungodly hour this morning with words like 'hydrophobic', 'nanotechnology' and 'submicroscopic-surface-enhancement', a small number of half-asleep hacks were shown how a material normally very absorbent, such as household kitchen paper, can, if treated with P2i's ion-masking process, be submerged in a tank of water and be lifted out totally dry.

ion-mask waterproofing technology at work

Water sports: the left shoe has been treated, the right has not

P2i has already produced the first consumer application of the technology. Together with sportswear manufacturer Hi-Tec, it has produced a new range of totally waterproof hiking boots and running shoes.

Martin Binnendijk, CEO of Hi-Tec, told Register Hardware: "This technology is already being adopted by the UK military services for clothing and shoes as Hi-Tec manufactures these - as well as equipment for the police under a different brand name, Magnum."

According to P2i, all the individual fibres of a shoe - at a molecular level - are treated with the ion-mask plasma. So, unlike Scotchgard and similar waterproofing sprays, absolutely every part of the shoe is waterproofed, including the laces, sole, uppers, lowers etc at more than the surface level. Additionally, this treatment is permanent and doesn't eventually wear off like Scotchgard, P2i claimed.

Ion-masked material also acts differently to Gore-Tex, as this is essentially a membrane that acts as a sponge so the water is actually absorbed. Ion-masked material repels water molecules.

Each material that has been ion-masked retains its normal qualities, so it can be scrunched up and even torn into smaller pieces and still be waterproof.

"Ion-mask surface-enhancement nanotechnology can treat everyday objects without altering the look, design or feel of the material," said P2i's Dr Ian Roberts. "The plasma process enables water-repellent molecules to chemically bond to the fibres of the footwear on a sub-microscopic scale rendering the product either waterproof or hydrophobic."

When asked whether this property enhancing process could be applied to electronics products, Roberts said: "Eventually, we hope, yes. We are very keen to apply it to electronics, ultimately making them waterproof, although this is still in the early stages of development."

Oxfordshire-based P2i was established in 2004 to commercialise super liquid-repellent treatments developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and the University of Durham.

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