Scientists at Texas Tech University's Institute of Environmental and Human Health have developed a new nonwoven cotton fabric that offers protection against biological and chemical agents.

The fabric, developed with the US Department of Defense, is the first "to bring cotton into the national defence arena," according to Seshadri Ramkumar, the researcher at the institute who developed the fabric.

The composite fabric consists of a thin piece of carbon encased on either side by the nonwoven cotton. The military currently uses a cloth made from carbon, which leaves skin and other surfaces dirty.

Proposed uses for the new soft, lightweight fabric include the inner lining of protective suits or as a wipe to remove dangerous contaminants from a variety of surfaces.

The material is also said to neutralise and absorbs toxic chemicals used in chemical warfare and pesticides.