Home / Knowledge / News / Textiles / Swedish scientists convert cotton into sugar, to make textiles

Swedish scientists convert cotton into sugar, to make textiles

08
Mar '21
Pic: Lund University
Pic: Lund University
In a major step towards recycling, scientists at Sweden’s Lund University have found a way to convert cotton into sugar, which in turn can be made into spandex, nylon or ethanol. Every year, an estimated 25 million tonnes of cotton textiles are discarded around the world. In total, 100 million tonnes of textiles are thrown out. A lot ends up in landfills.

In Sweden, most of the discarded material goes straight into an incinerator and becomes district heating. In other places, it is even worse, as clothes usually end up in landfills.

“Considering that cotton is a renewable resource, this is not particularly energy-efficient,” says Edvin Ruuth, researcher in chemical engineering at Lund University. “Some fabrics still have such strong fibres that they can be re-used. This is done today and could be done even more in future. But a lot of the fabric that is discarded has fibres that are too short for re-use, and sooner or later all cotton fibres become too short for the process known as fibre regeneration.”

At the Department of Chemical Engineering in Lund where Edvin Ruuth works, there is a great deal of information about using micro-organisms and enzymes to transform the “tougher” carbohydrates in biomass into simpler molecules. This means that everything from biological waste and black liquor to straw and wood chips can become bioethanol, biogas and chemicals.

In the new research, scientists have succeeded in breaking down the plant fibre in cotton – the cellulose – into smaller components. However, no micro-organisms or enzymes are involved. Instead, the process involves soaking the fabrics in sulphuric acid. The result is a clear, dark, amber-coloured sugar solution.

“The secret is to find the right combination of temperature and sulphuric acid concentration,” explains Ruuth, who fine-tuned the ‘recipe’ together with doctoral student Miguel Sanchis-Sebastiá and professor Ola Wallberg.

Glucose is a very flexible molecule and has many potential uses, according to Ruuth. “Our plan is to produce chemicals which in turn can become various types of textiles, including spandex and nylon. An alternative use could be to produce ethanol.”

From a normal sheet, they extract five litres of sugar solution, with each litre containing the equivalent of 33 sugar cubes. However, you couldn’t turn the liquid into a soft drink as it also contains corrosive sulphuric acid.

One of the challenges is to overcome the complex structure of cotton cellulose.

“What makes cotton unique is that its cellulose has a high crystallinity. This makes it difficult to break down the chemicals and reuse their components. In addition, there are a lot of surface treatment substances, dyes and other pollutants which must be removed. And structurally, a terrycloth towel and an old pair of jeans are very different,” says Ruuth.

“Thus, it is a very delicate process to find the right concentration of acid, the right number of treatment stages and temperature,” Ruuth adds.

The concept of hydrolysing pure cotton is nothing new per se, explains Ruuth - it was discovered in the 1800s. The difficulty has been to make the process effective, economically viable and attractive. “Many people who tried ended up not utilising much of the cotton, while others did better but at an unsustainable cost and environmental impact.”

When he started making glucose out of fabrics a year ago, the return was a paltry three to four per cent. Now he and his colleagues have reached as much as 90 per cent. Once the recipe formulation is complete, it will be both relatively simple and cheap to use.

However, for the process to become a reality, the logistics must work. There is currently no established way of managing and sorting various textiles that are not sent to ordinary clothing donation points.

A recycling centre unlike any other in the world is currently under construction in Malmö, where clothing is sorted automatically using a sensor. Some clothing will be donated, rags can be used in industry and textiles with sufficiently coarse fibres can become new fabrics. The rest will go to district heating. Hopefully, the proportion of fabrics going to district heating will be significantly smaller once the technology from Lund is in place.

Fibre2Fashion News Desk (SV)


Must ReadView All

Pic: Shutterstock

Textiles | On 12th May 2021

Economic recovery under threat amid surging COVID cases: UN

While the global growth outlook has improved, led by robust rebound...

Pic: 2p2play / Shutterstock.com

Retail | On 12th May 2021

Retailers need to consider changes as US emerges from pandemic: NPD

Millions of new remote and hybrid-remote workers, kids returning to...

Pic: Shutterstock

Textiles | On 12th May 2021

Uzbekistan exported textile products worth $637.7 million in Q1 2021

Uzbekistan exported textile products worth $637.7 million to 54...

Interviews View All

Textile Industry, Head honchos

Textile Industry
Head honchos

Estimate loss of $8-$10 billion in turnover

Textile Industry, Head honchos

Textile Industry
Head honchos

Consumer sentiment will be conservative after lockdown

Textile Industry, Head honchos

Textile Industry
Head honchos

Great step towards realising end goal of 'AtmaNirbhar Bharat'

Seema Mishra,

Seema Mishra

Set up in January 2020 by <b>Seema Mishra</b>, the Kasrawad Art Cluster...

Chendhuran Sundar,

Chendhuran Sundar

Headquartered at Singapore, Crocodile is a global fashion and lifestyle...

Nina Smith,

Nina Smith

GoodWeave International, a nonprofit working to end child, forced and...

Frank Heislitz, Freudenberg

Frank Heislitz
Freudenberg

Freudenberg Performance Materials is a leading global manufacturer of...

Tiasha Renganathan, Twinery Innovations by MAS

Tiasha Renganathan
Twinery Innovations by MAS

Twinery-Innovations by MAS is the innovation arm of Sri Lankan company MAS ...

Andreas Lukas, Andritz Nonwoven

Andreas Lukas
Andritz Nonwoven

With forces in engineering and process development, Andritz Nonwoven...

Seema Agrawal, Artisan Saga

Seema Agrawal
Artisan Saga

Artisan Saga, founded by Kaushik Rajani and Seema Agrawal, is an online...

Suman Nathwani, Suman Nathwani

Suman Nathwani
Suman Nathwani

Designer <b>Suman Nathwani</b> talks about her journey of opening a...

Ruma Devi, Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan

Ruma Devi
Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan

Ruma Devi is a jet-setting promoter of artisans who has empowered...

Press Release

Press Release

Letter to Editor

Letter to Editor

RSS Feed

RSS Feed

Submit your press release on


editorial@fibre2fashion.com

Letter To Editor






(Max. 8000 char.)

Search Companies





SEARCH

Leave your Comments


May 2021

Subscribe today and get the latest update on Textiles, Fashion, Apparel and so on.


Advanced Search