”Textilia supplies smart, green, and cost-efficient textile services to quality-conscious clients in health care, hotels, restaurants and the industry in the Nordic countries. This includes the everyday delivery of 100 tonnes of textiles all over the country, something that contributes to the vocational pride and dignity of many hard working people”, says Karin Lindmark, textile manager at Textilia. ”For a couple of years, we have been developing our Sustainable textile services concept. We are looking at environmental issues, the working environment, subcontractors and quality management”.

”Within the concept, an annual scholarship is awarded to reward and encourage students to advance in the fields of textile and environmental issues. We want the scholarship to entice out-of-the-box thinking and make students consider how a textile service company can reduce environmental impact through textile innovation”, says Karin. ”This is the third time the scholarship is awarded, and the winners are doing very interesting research”.

Super strong composites

Sunil Kumar Ramamoorthy at the University of Borås has created super strong composite materials from discarded hospital textiles, other textile waste and Swedish paper pulp. The materials are mostly renewable and are for example able to meet certain mechanical requirements put on components in the automotive industry.

Sunil’s 2015 doctoral thesis describes how he merged organic materials with bioplastics derived from sources such as soybean oil. The materials were bound together by high temperature and pressure, creating durable and strong composite materials. According to Sunil, they are both renewable and stronger than many existing composites; a rare combination.

Biodegradable composites have been around for decades, but have often been associated with quality problems and foul odor. Some of these actually smell like hay; not exactly the smell one expects to find in a brand new car. By using waste from the pulp industry and carefully choosing what parts of the trees to use, the properties of the bio-composites can be fine-tuned. This results in materials with even quality, without the smell of hay.

Sunil has also worked on arranging textile fibres in a certain order, as in a woven product. Discarded fabrics from a hospital laundry were soaked in bioplastics and hardened by heat and pressure. The resulting composite showed very good mechanical properties.

”Sunil Kumar Ramamoorthy was awarded Textilia’s scholarship in 2014, and these types of materials are attracting a lot of interest from the construction and automotive industries. To us, it is a potential use for discarded textiles”, says Karin Lindmark.

image2-2Greener than cotton

Textilia’s environmental scholarship for 2015 was awarded to Malin Larsson and Annie Nilsson from The Swedish School of Textiles, part of the University of Borås. In search for an alternative to the resource-demanding cotton, they have tried to make the stalk fiber Grewia optiva spinnable by treating it with a special enzyme.

Stalk fibers have a number of advantages in comparison with cotton. For instance, they require less water and less pesticides. They also have many desirable properties in common with cotton, such as comfort and absorbance. The drawback is that strong molecules such as pectin bind the fibers into strict and rigid structures. To make the fibers softer and more accommodative, Malin and Annie treated them with a pectin-degrading enzyme. The process made it possible to spin the fibers into yarn.

”The aim of this year’s scholarship was to promote research leading towards greener alternatives to cotton. This work is a step in the right direction”, says Karin Lindmark.

Old sheets turned into new materials

Almost 80 percent of all discarded textile in Sweden is incinerated. A lot of it could have been recycled instead, through re-use or material recycling. This was the take-off point when Katarina Lindström and Moa Porse from The Swedish School of Textiles received the scholarship from Textilia in 2013. Their work focused on how discarded sheets could be turned into new materials, and whether it would be feasible to set up recycling systems for textiles.

Katarina’s research demonstrated how a new kind of material could be generated from discarded hospital sheets made from cotton and polyester. A special method (needling) was used to combine the bed sheet fibers with polyester. The connected fibers were then subjected to high pressure, creating a durable composite with good properties.

Moa tried to establish whether it would be advisable for Sweden to develop a textile recycling system. Her conclusion was that such a system would lead to more efficient usage of resources and reduce the environmental impact. She suggests that it could be developed in ten years time, but a number of practical issues has to be solved first.

”Our ambition was to award one scholarship”, Karin Lindmark concludes. ”But we deemed both of these projects worthy, and we decided to award both of them with their own”.

The article was published in January 2016