Textilia’s environment scholarship was awarded to Malin Larsson and Annie Nilsson of the Swedish School of Textiles. For their degree project, which was funded by Smart Textiles, they investigated the possibility of developing an alternative to resource-demanding cotton. The objective was to create a spinnable fibre by treating stalk fibres from the Grewia optiva plant with a special enzyme. Stalk fibres are taken as shoots from the fast-growing Indian tree of the same name.
One of the criteria for this year’s scholarship related to a desire to promote research that leads to more environmentally friendly alternatives to cotton. There are many advantages to using stalk fibres in its place.
– If we take hemp as an example, it doesn’t require biocides to the same large extent as cotton, and it requires less water, Annie Nilsson says. It also grows very quickly. After about three months, the hemp can be harvested and the acreage can be used in other ways. In addition, stalk fibres have many good properties that are similar to those of cotton as regards comfort and absorption capacity.
Hard fibres – a challenge
The challenge with stalk fibres is that their structures are very hard and stiff.
– The fibres are bound together by strong molecules, including pectin, which make them difficult to work with, and so it is necessary to have a good method for removing them, Malin Larsson says. In short, we treated the fibres with an enzyme, pectate lyase (EC 220.127.116.11), which breaks down the pectin and makes the fibres softer and more pliable. Thus, it was possible to spin them into a yarn.
– We have achieved promising results in our investigations, and have demonstrated that our treatment has caused the pectin to partially disappear from the fibre, Annie says. The goal is to find a stable, environmentally friendly and economically efficient process that works for different types of stalk fibres, breaking down the molecules and making the fibres spinnable. We believe that, through our project, we have laid a solid foundation for further work.