FreshUp – The innovative textile freshener – ESA Commercialisation Gateway

Space technology eliminates odours, bacteria, viruses and pollen on textiles.

Odours have a direct influence on our mood. They can create both positive and negative feelings and, above all, contribute to making us feel good. Conversely, unpleasant odours such as sweat, food or smoke that adhere to clothing lower our self-confidence. Odours in clothing and textiles are caused by molecules and bacteria. The immediate wash of one piece of garment due to these smells is relatively expensive, pollutes the environment and ruins the garment itself. In addition, there are textiles which can only be cleaned chemically, which is an even more expensive and not sustainable method.

Image 1: FreshUp textile freshener (Source: Bosch).

In collaboration with terraplasma, a company which has already used cold plasma for medical and hygienic issues as well as for water treatment, Bosch has developed the innovative textile freshener FreshUp to remove these odours quickly and reliably, even while the clothes are still being worn.

While plasma is normally a hot, electrically charged gas, nowadays it is also possible to create “cold plasma” which has proven to be extremely effective in eradicating bacteria, viruses, and pollen. It is safe to touch, which makes it attractive for many applications. Through financial support from ESA, scientists led by Professor Gregor Morfill, CEO of terraplasma, conducted the first experiments on plasma at the International Space Station (ISS). His team used the weightlessness in orbit to study complex plasmas, which provided the impulse for the development of cold plasma technology.

Image 2: Plasma experiment with plasma source on the ISS (Source: MPE).

The latest, fourth version of this experiment is still operating on the International Space Station (ISS), making it the longest-running experiment to study plasmas in space. ESA’s Spark Funding programme has helped translate the knowledge gathered in space into a practical application on Earth.

What is plasma?

The German EurA AG (part of the broker network of ESA’s technology transfer programme) had long been aware of Prof. Morfill’s specialty and his spin-off successes at terraplasma and supports the company in cross-industry technology transfer, from space to non-space applications.

This plasma technology has immense potential for applications on Earth. This is especially true for a wide range of uses in the consumer sector“, says Johannes Schmidt, site manager at EurA. “This technology is particularly suitable for eliminating odours, bacteria, and viruses. It helps that companies are open to new technologies, think creatively and work quickly to bring a new innovative technology to market.

The uniqueness of this space technology has also been recognised by the world-renowned Bosch Group, which aim is to fulfil existing and emerging needs while developing “technology for life”.

Image 3: Bosch FreshUp at work (source: Bosch).

To remove odours, terraplasma’s new plasma technology (built into Bosch’s FreshUp device), generates the plasma by igniting a dielectrically impeded discharge around a line electrode (in the air) on the outside of the unit. Two lines approximately 1 mm thick form parallel around the outer electrode in which plasma is generated by a strong alternating electromagnetic field. The plasma is “shot” into the textile and initiates the decomposition and oxidation process in the odour molecules, dissolving them and thus removing them completely.

Thanks to its innovative plasma technology, FreshUp removes unpleasant odours from dry textiles within minutes, without any washing or chemical additives. This applies to garments as well as pillows, soft toys, sofa covers and other textiles. Even sensitive fabrics such as silk, cashmere or wool can be treated with FreshUp.

ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer would like his colleagues on the ISS to have the FreshUp device to freshen up their textiles in space, since there is no washing machine up there. This way, a technology, initially transferred from space to earth, would be re-injected into space and make a successful upstream tech-transfer.

Image 3: (from left to right) Astronaut Matthias Maurer (ESA) and Johannes Schmidt (EurA AG) (Source: EurA AG).