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Nanollose Just Created a Viscose Fiber That Doesn’t Use Plants at All

The cellulosic fiber market has a new entrant that takes the next step in the sustainable production of viscose.

Nanollose Limited has produced what it believes to be the world’s first plant-free viscose fiber. Nanollose technology can convert plant-free microbial cellulose into a valued commercial fiber product. This gives the Perth, Australia-based company a significant opportunity in offering a sustainable alternative for plant-based fibers such as viscose that can have significant environmental impacts.

Viscose, also referred to as rayon, is a well-established fiber made from cellulose predominantly derived from wood pulp and used to make everything from apparel to home furnishings.

However, there are significant environmental concerns surrounding production as a considerable amount of trees are cut down, chipped and then treated with hazardous chemicals followed by an energy intensive purification process to source the cellulose required for viscose production.

A recent study completed by SCS Global Services on behalf of Stella McCartney, showed that manmade cellulosic fibers derived from different sources may be functionally and chemically identical, but can have radically different environmental profiles based on the processes and technologies used in production, according to Tobias. For example, manmade cellulosics from tropical hardwoods originating in Indonesia had significant negative impacts associated with deforestation of the rainforest, which were completely different from manmade cellulosics originating from well-managed forests in Sweden.

[Read more about the viscose study: How Environmentally Friendly is Viscose? A New Study Sheds Light.]

Unlike conventional rayon, Nanollose’s sustainable plant-free viscose is derived using microbes that convert biomass waste products from the beer, wine and liquid food industries into microbial cellulose, in a process that takes less than one month and requires minimal land, water or energy. The microbial cellulose is then converted into viscose fibers using the Nanollose technology that is compatible with existing industry processing and manufacturing equipment.

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The company said as brands, retailers and manufacturers increasingly seek environmentally sustainable fiber resources, numerous companies have already approached Nanollose to express their interest in the technology. The next steps will be around accelerating toward producing sufficient quantities of fiber samples for these groups.

Nanollose has filed a provisional patent that relates to a method of processing microbial cellulose into viscose dope, which is then turned into viscose fibers, unlocking commercial value from microbial cellulose.

The company’s managing director Alfie Germano, said; “Each year, a huge amount of trees are cut down to produce wood-based fibers like rayon. Today’s breakthrough takes Nanollose one step closer to commercializing our sustainable fibers as a very real alternative, so we positively impact and reduce the cutting down of trees and use of toxic processes to create clothing and textiles. The entire industry is experiencing a green wind of change that is customer driven, with many global players stepping up their search for sustainable, long-term fiber alternatives, and we believe we have a solution.”

Nanollose initially plans to tap into the established coconut industry to secure supply of plant-free microbial cellulose, which will then be processed into viscose and other fibers using Nanollose technologies.