Significant opportunities exist in both the scientific and industrial sectors for the development of novel multi-functional materials that combine the inherent properties of all precursor components in a synergistic manner, thereby providing new products and opportunities. Processes that add value to natural materials in a facile and refined manner are particularly sought after. Thus this research combines useable substrates, notably natural protein fibres and minerals with gold or silver nanoparticles, producing high value, multi-functional materials that display the strength, softness and shine (of the protein fibres), or high surface area and dispersibility (of the minerals) with the high value and wealth associated with the noble metal nanoparticles, their broad spectrum of intense colours, anti-microbial, insecticide and anti-static properties. This adds significant worth to the substrates, transforming them from commodities to valuable materials.
Silk, merino wool and crossbred wool were the natural fibres employed kaolinite and halloysite clays the minerals. They were combined with gold and silver nanoparticles of various sizes and shapes (and hence colours) producing the following composite materials:
• Gold nanoparticle-merino wool composites
• Gold nanoparticle-crossbred wool composites
• Gold nanoparticle-silk composites
• Silver nanoparticle-kaolinite composites
• Silver nanoparticle-halloysite composites
The most successful method for producing silver nanoparticle-clay composites involved the external preparation of silver nanoparticles and their subsequent attachment to the clay substrates by means of a layer-by-layer deposition approach, which capitalised on electrostatic interactions between oppositely charged polyelectrolytes capping the nanoparticles and bound to the clay surfaces.
Three general approaches were employed in the production of the gold nanoparticle-natural fibre composite materials. The nanoparticles were either synthesised ex-situ and subsequently attached to the fibres, or the natural fibres were utilised as redox active biotemplates in which the wool or silk absorbed and subsequently reduced Au³⁺ to nanoparticulate Au⁰ on and within the fibres. Thirdly, a seed mediated growth approach was employed in which additional Au³⁺ was reduced to nanoparticulate Au⁰ on the surface of gold nanoparticles already bound to the fibres. This was facilitated by an external reductant