Monday, May 20, 2024

Researchers Turn Old Cotton Into New Viscose


Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have made a significant breakthrough in textile recycling, developing a method that transforms old cotton fibers into viscose fibers.

A new textile recycling innovation could pave the way for more sustainable textile production, reducing the industry’s reliance on virgin fibers and, consequently, its environmental footprint, says new research from Sweden’s Lund University. The findings were published in the journal Cellulose.

Viscose, often referred to as rayon in the U.S., is a semi-synthetic fiber made from cellulose, a natural component found in plants’ cell walls. The production process of viscose involves dissolving cellulose in a chemical solution to produce a viscous solution — hence the name “viscose.” This solution is then spun into fibers, which can be woven into fabrics. The material is often used in clothing such as blouses, skirts, and dresses.

a woman sits on a curb
Photo courtesy Vadim Paripa

The cellulose used for viscose typically comes from wood pulp, although it can also be obtained from cotton linters (short fibers left on cotton seeds after ginning). Despite its plant-based origins, the environmental impact of viscose production is a concern due to the chemicals used in the process, such as carbon disulfide, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid. These chemicals can be harmful to workers and the environment if not properly managed.

The new research, conducted by Edvin Bågenholm-Ruuth, a doctoral student in chemical engineering at Lund University, and his colleagues, introduced a technique that could soon become commercially viable, offering an alternative to conventional viscose production that predominantly relies on cellulose from wood. By using recycled textiles, this method aims to conserve forest resources while addressing the environmental challenges associated with cotton cultivation, which demands significant amounts of energy, water, and land.

materials, fabric, textiles
Photo courtesy Jingwen Yang

The new technique utilizes a relatively simple salt, zinc chloride, which dissolves in water to break down and convert complex cotton fibers into a substance that can be spun into high-quality viscose threads. Preliminary testing has yielded promising results, suggesting that this process may not only be effective but also cost-efficient. Notably, it requires a lower percentage of carbon disulphide, a toxic chemical commonly used in standard viscose production, potentially reducing the environmental and health risks associated with its use.

“Cellulose chains, the main component in plant fibers, are complex and long,” Bågenholm-Ruuth said in a statement. “Cotton textiles are also intensively treated with dyes, protective agents, and other chemicals. And then there is all the ingrained grime in the form of skin flakes and fats.” He also noted the need for further optimization and mentioned that dyed clothes might require an additional decolorizing step, which should ideally avoid traditional bleaching methods due to their high environmental impact.

A company, ShareTex, has been established to commercialize this technology, with hopes of scaling up to a commercial level within five to seven years, with plans for a pilot plant in Europe.

Related on Ethos:


OtterBox Debuts Mobile Phone Cases Made From Sustainable Cactus Leather

Leading mobile case manufacturer OtterBox, has debuted a range of cactus leather phone cases and Apple watchbands.

Under Armour Debuts Its First Product Made With Spandex Alternative, Neolast: ‘The Future of Stretch’

Under Armour has announced the launch of the Vanish Pro Training Tee, featuring the innovative Neolast material — a high-performance elastane alternative that promises to revolutionize the way athletes train.

Making Its Global Debut, Polybion’s Celium Bio-Leather Creates a New Material Category: ‘Limitless Possibilities’

Mexico-based materials company Polybion has unveiled what it says is the worldwide market debut of its signature sustainable bacterial cellulose material, Celium, setting the stage for a new material category altogether.

What Is Eco Brutalism? Is It the Beginning or the End of Sustainable Design?

Eco-brutalism is an architectural style gaining popularity for combining brutalist design elements with greenery to create a unique aesthetic and the perception that it is more sustainable than traditional brutalism. However, it has also faced criticism, particularly regarding its sustainability status.

Polestar’s New Extreme EV Battery Charging Partnership Can Add 200 Miles in 10 Minutes

Swedish electric car manufacturer Polestar, and StoreDot, a leader in extreme fast charging (XFC) battery technology for electric vehicles, have achieved a significant breakthrough in battery technology, taking vehicles from ten to 80 percent charged in just ten minutes.