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Protein-Based Process Could Extend Cellulosic Fabrics’ Life

A new biopolishing technique aims to extend the life of sustainable manmade textiles.

Danish biotechnology company Novozymes debuted new technology Tuesday that lessens pilling and fuzziness on fabrics made from cellulosic fibers such as viscose, modal and lyocell.

Tree-based fibers have risen to prominence in recent years, capturing 6 percent of the overall textile market share, Textile Exchange data showed. Outpaced only by polyester and cotton, the newer class of fabrics faces quality issues that impact their longevity.

While consumers are interested in more sustainable fabrications, cellulosic garments can begin to look worn after just a few washes. These practical concerns can deter even eco-conscious consumers, Novozymes said. Such challenges pressure mills to limit the amount of cellulosic fiber they can add to their blends.

The company’s new Fiberlife process utilizes enzymes to remove loose fiber ends, called microfibrils, from the surface of finished fabrics. When friction hits these microscopic filaments, they can ball up, creating a rough texture that leaves whites and colors less bright. The enzyme wash can take place before, during or after dyeing fabrics, creating a clean fabric surface that lasts at least 60 washes, it said. It can improve quality for digitally printed garments that need a smooth surface for ink to cling to.

The process offers the “wash and wear durability that consumers demand, prolonging the time the garments look and feel new,” Novozymes global marketing manager Dina Lipp said. “This is a better solution for the fashion and broader textile industry, consumers, and the planet.” The natural, protein-based bioprocess also reduces the use of water and chemicals needed for the production of cellulosic fabrics, Lipp added.

 The process can reduce the need for chemicals and water use during the production process, the group said.

“We see a big potential for textile manufacturers to extend the longevity of [cellulosic] fabrics, ultimately offering consumers longer-lasting garments made of fibers from nature,” global business development manager Pedro E. G. Loureiro said. Reducing the fashion industry’s environmental impact depends on making clothing that lasts longer, and consumer buy-in is key to advancing the widespread adoption of sustainable fabrics.

The project was created to support Textile Exchange’s Climate+ Strategy pushing the industry toward a 45-percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and water-conserving processes. Strengthening the appeal of renewable wood-based fibers can also help the sector move away from polymer-based synthetics, Novozymes said.