Nanollose, the Australian biotech firm behind what it claims is the world’s first tree-free rayon-viscose fiber, has now created what is quite possibly the world’s first piece of tree-free rayon-viscose clothing.
Knit using 3-D technology, the “first of its kind” sweater is a developmental milestone for Nanollose’s Nullarbor fiber, which is derived, in part, from by-products of the Indonesian coconut industry.
The garment is a step up for the company, which unveiled its first proof-of-concept fabric in May.
“We have successfully taken waste and created clothing, and we have done it following industrial protocol,” Alfie Germano, managing director at Nanollose, said in a statement. “Our fiber was spun into yarn and made into fabric, then manufactured into this garment using existing industrial equipment. It validates our entire process.”
Instead of using chemicals to extract cellulose from cotton, bamboo or wood pulp, Nanollose employs the bacteria Acetobacter xylinum to convert sugars in coconut waste into microbial cellulose, which it then spins into fiber using a patented process.
The process, which uses “very little” land, water or energy, takes just 18 days compared with the eight months required to grow cotton, a notoriously thirsty crop, Nanollose noted.
The company sees Nullarbor as an alternative to conventional rayon-viscose, a material that is responsible for the logging of roughly 70 million to 100 million trees every year, according to Canopy, a Canadian forestry not-for-profit.
With demand for dissolving pulp projected to increase by 122 percent in the next 40 years, Canopy contends that the cellulosic-fiber sector poses an increasing risk to threatened ecosystems such as ancient and endangered forests.
Nanollose’s fiber, on the other hand, is made “without harming a single tree.”
“We didn’t have to cut down any trees to create this sweater,” Germano said. “And we have now demonstrated that our tree-free rayon-viscose fiber can be used in the same way as other commonly used fibers to make clothing and textiles without the hefty environmental footprint.”
Nanollose’s next move? To “significantly increase” fiber production over the next three to six months. It is now working with its suppliers to secure a supply chain that will allow it to crank out commercial quantities of Nullarbor for apparel makers.
“We have now reached a point where our technology is moving out of the laboratory and into the factory,” Germano said. “Once we achieve this increased scale, manufacturers will have an alternative eco-friendly option available to them.”
The goal, he added, is to work with key partners who will take agricultural waste (it doesn’t have to be only coconuts), produce the firm’s Nullarbor fiber and “seamlessly integrate” it into their clothing supply chain without having to retrofit existing machinery or processes.
“We are a technology company that has also become a steward in facilitating a new raw material supply chain,” Germano said.