Plasma Technology in Textile: A step towards the green environment (Part-2)

Plasma Technology in Textile: A step towards the green environment (Part-2)

Arpita Kothari
M. Tech. Scholar
Department of Textile Technology,
NIT Jalandhar, India
Cell: +91- 7837-696041

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2. Plasma technologies:

2.1. Low pressure cold plasma technology:
Low-pressure cold plasma technology is also referred to as vacuum plasma technology. This technology has its origin in the processing of semiconductor materials and printed circuit boards (PCB). Soon after its introduction in the electronics industry, the path to incorporation into the textile and nonwoven sectors has been and remains troublesome.

The plasma state of a gas – also considered as the fourth aggregation state of matter – can be reached if the gas is under sufficiently low-pressure and when electromagnetic energy is provided to the gas volume. Under those circumstances, the process gas will be partially decomposed into radicals and atoms and will also be partially ionised. Depending on the frequency of the electromagnetic energy, the pressure range in which equilibrium with a high density of charged particles is reached might be different. For the radio frequency range (typically 40 kHz or 13.56 MHz), normally the working gas pressure is kept in the lower 0.1 mbar range, whereas for microwave sources, a working pressure between 0.5 and 1 mbar is often used. In order to effect the plasma treatment in sufficiently pure process gas conditions, a base pressure in the lower 0.01 mbar needs to be reached. This can be done with two-stage roughing vacuum pumps (rotary vane type) or with a dry pump or with a combination of either of those pumps with a roots blower.

Plasma can bring several effects to substrates, depending on the plasma mode and the process gases used. There are five major effects fine cleaning, surface activation, etching, cross-linking and coating deposition.

Equipment based on this:
Figure 2: Roll-to-Roll batch plasma systems.
Figure 3: True roll-to-roll web treatment
Development of type of low pressure plasma is done by:

2.1.1. Glow discharge:
It is the oldest type of plasma technique. It is produced at reduced pressure (low-pressure plasma technique) and provides the highest possible uniformity and flexibility of any plasma treatment. The plasma is formed by applying a DC, low frequency (50 Hz) or radio frequency (40 kHz, 13.56 MHz) voltage over a pair or a series of electrodes. (Figure A, B, C) Alternatively, a vacuum glow discharge can be made by using microwave (GHz) power supply.

2.2. Atmospheric-pressure cold plasma processing technology:
Low pressure plasma processing has failed to make an impact in the textile sector because of a particular constraint, which is incompatible with industrial mass production. All the technologies developed to date are based on the properties of low-pressure plasmas.

The process must take place in an expensive, closed-perimeter vacuum system and cannot be used for continuous production lines operating at room temperature, with machines processing fabric 2 meter wide at high speed.

To overcome these restraints, Atmospheric Pressure Plasma Techniques are being developed. This technique provides the highest possible plasma density (in the range of 1 to 5 x 1012 electrons cm-3), without the associated high gas temperatures and the cold plasma chemically treats fabric and other substrates without subjecting them to damaging high temperatures. The Atmospheric Pressure Plasma is a unique, non-thermal, glow-discharge plasma operating at atmospheric pressure. The discharge uses a high-flow feed-gas consisting primarily of an inert carrier gas, like He, and small amount of additive to be activated, such as O2, H2O or CF4.

The development of three types of APP that have relevance for textile treatment – the Corona Discharge, the Dielectric Barrier Discharge, the Atmospheric Pressure Glow Discharge.

2.2.1. The Corona Discharge:
Corona discharges are plasmas that result from the high electric field that surrounds an electrically conductive spatial singularity when a voltage is applied. The high electric field around the singularity, i.e. the point of the needle or the wire, causes electrical breakdown and ionisation of whatever gas surrounds the singularity, and plasma is created, which discharges in a fountain-like spray out from the point or wire. Plasma types are characterised, inter alia, by the number, density and temperature of the free electrons in the system.

The discharge is so narrow that the residence time of the fabric in the plasma would be too short for commercial operation and, in addition, the power level that can be applied is extremely limited by the cross-section capacity of the wire and its ability to dissipate heat generated during treatment. Accordingly, in its pure form, corona is far from an ideal textile surface processing medium.
Figure 4: Corona discharge
2.2.2. Dielectric barrier discharge:
In contrast to the asymmetry of the corona system, if a symmetrical electrode arrangement is set up comprising two parallel conducting plates placed in opposition, separated by a gap of ∼10 mm, and a high voltage, 1–20 kV, is applied, the gas between the plates can be electrically broken down and a plasma discharge generated. Generally, however, that plasma takes the form of a hot thermal plasma arc less than a millimetre in diameter, which jumps from one spot on one electrode plate to a spot on the opposing electrode. This is useless for textile treatment and would do nothing except burn a hole in the fabric. If, however, one or both of the electrode plates is covered by a dielectric such as ceramic or glass, the plasma finds it much more difficult to discharge as an arc and, instead, is forced to spread itself out over the area of the electrodes to carry the current it needs to survive. This type of plasma is called a Dielectric Barrier Discharge (DBD) and is large area, non-thermal and uniform. Because of charge accumulation on the dielectric, this tends to neutralise the applied electric field thus choking off the plasma, the DBD must be powered by a.c. and is typically driven by high voltage power supplies running at frequencies of 1 to 100 kHz. It is denser than the corona with a typical free electron density of about 1010 electrons/cm3 but the free electrons are slightly cooler at temperatures of 20 000 to 50 000 K. This is a much more attractive candidate for textile processing than the pure corona.
Figure 5: Dielectric barrier discharge
2.2.3. The atmospheric pressure glow discharge:
The third APP type intrinsically capable of meeting the size and temperature constraints needed for textile processing is the Atmospheric Pressure Glow Discharge (APGD). This is analogous in its mode of generation and some key characteristics to the famous low-pressure glow discharge plasma that is the backbone of the global plasma industry and workhorse of a dozen major industries, in particular the omnipresent microelectronics industry, which would not exist without the glow discharge plasma. The APGD is generated by application of relatively low (∼200 V) voltages across opposing symmetrical planar or curved electrodes, separated by mm at high frequency, or even very high frequency, radio frequencies 2–60 MHz, much higher than the other plasma types. The electrodes are not covered by dielectric but are bare metal, a feature that enables significantly higher power densities (up to 500 W/cm3) to be coupled into the discharge than can be achieved with corona or DBD.

The APGD is denser than the DBD, with typical free electron densities of 1011–1012 electrons/cm3, but the free electrons are slightly cooler at temperatures of 10 000 to 20 000 K. Textile treatment temperatures can run at 25–50 ÂșC. APGD plasma takes the form of a bright, uniform, homogeneous glow in the region between the electrodes. The application of voltage between metal plates would generally result in generation of a highly undesirable, very high current density and hot plasma arc. By control of the interelectrode gap and the frequency of the driving voltage and, above all, by the use of helium as ∼99% of the generation gas, arcing is prevented and a large volume, non-thermal plasma is generated, which is both dense and a rich source of the chemical species needed to carry out textile processing. This amazing gas has several special properties that, in combination, make it uniquely suited for the generation of well-behaved, large volume, cool plasma at atmospheric pressure. Other gases, such as oxygen or nitrogen, are microscopically more complex with many different energetic modes.

All in all, helium has been and continues to be probably the best medium for non-thermal APP research as well as being technologically valuable as a route to useful large volume, cool plasmas.
Figure 6: Atmospheric pressure glow discharge

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Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant and researcher on online business promotion. He is working with one European textile machinery company as a country agent. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.

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