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Researchers Develop a New Fiber Made From Recycled Cotton

Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre has produced a new fiber made from recycled cotton.

Using a process that involves dissolving discarded and worn cotton and turning it into raw material, researchers have created the first product models that show how recycled fiber can be upcycled into yarn, and then fabric, without harming the environment.

The fiber, which is smooth and feels “halfway between cotton and viscose,” features a subdued matte finish and nice drape, according to VTT, and could reduce the textile industry’s carbon footprint as researchers say the process is more environmentally friendly than viscose production.

VTT created the first batch of the recycled fiber in a pilot facility using a carbon disulphide-free process. Unlike conventional viscose production, VTT’s recycled fiber process doesn’t require carbon disulphide—a colorless volatile liquid—for dissolution, and polyester residues are removed from the cotton material using traditional methods from the pulp sector.

According to VTT, the recycled fiber’s carbon footprint, which is produced using VTT’s carbamate technology, is approximately a third smaller than for cotton and is in a similar category to other viscose materials. What’s more, the recycled fiber’s water footprint is an estimated 2 percent of what organic cotton uses, and 10 percent of viscose. VTT’s carbamate technology (CCA) is a solvent-free clean technology that dissolves materials before they are turned into recycled fibers for fabric.

Once yarn was spun at Tampere University of Technology and turned into recyclable fibers at VTT’s laboratory, the first model products, including flat-knitted fabrics and gloves, were created by Agtuvi, a Finland-based knitwear company.

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[Read more on sustainable fiber developments: Lenzing Opens Application Innovation Center in Hong Kong for Fiber Development]

As part of the recycled fiber launch, VTT is partnering with Infinited Fiber Company to facilitate proper R&D guidelines and prepare the spinning process for industrial production. With the collaboration between both parties, a range of cellulose fibers are set to be developed at a spinning unit built at VTT’s Bioruukki pilot center this summer.

VTT’s recycled fiber method is also part of the TEKI project, which originally launched as The Relooping Fashion Initiative. The project aims to develop a closed-loop ecosystem, embracing the circular economy, and it’s expected to improve textile recycling in Finland. Collecting and sorting discarded textiles is also being monitored by the Telaketju project, which is jointly funded by Tekes and the Ministry of the Environment. This project also involves creating a circular economy of companies and other parties, so Finland could establish a more sustainable textile ecosystem in the coming years.