TeKiDe technology creates sustainable new textiles from waste cotton in Helsinki-Uusimaa

A method to turn old cotton textiles into sustainable, high-quality fibre has been demonstrated in Finland’s Helsinki-Uusimaa region by the TeKiDe project. The innovation aims to boost the region’s clean technology specialisation and could support a new low-waste textile industry. As part of the project VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has designed a production platform to dissolve waste cotton and re-spin it into a viscose-like fibre using less-polluting chemicals and producing less waste than current techniques used for common textiles. 

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Recycled cotton fibre from the TeKiDe platform © VTT Finland Recycled cotton fibre from the TeKiDe platform © VTT Finland

" This can revolutionise the whole concept of the textile industry, turning waste clothing into sustainable ‘cottonfields’. "

Marjo Määttänen, Senior Scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd

Pilot production is at VTT’s Bioruukki Pilot Centre in the town of Espoo. After modifications of the VTT Centre’s hall and spinning units, along with staff training, the scaled up technologies first ran in the platform in Autumn 2017. Project partner Aalto University is developing a similar platform using ion-based technology.

The resulting fibres were used in a gala dress worn by Sirpa Pietikäinen, a Member of the European Parliament, at Finland’s centenary celebrations, demonstrating their suitability for industry. Regular platform operation began in early 2018 and a start-up company is commercialising the new technologies. The platform is now part of a bio and circular economy hub attracting investment to the region. 

Lower-impact fabric

TeKiDe and a Finnish-financed project called TEKI – Circular Economy of Textiles demonstrated low-impact processes that wash and pre-treat waste cotton, turn it into cellulose carbamate powder, dissolve this and finally wet-spin it into new stable fibres. Because these apply to any plant material that contains cellulose, wood pulp can also be used in the recycling and production platform.

The platform technologies are safer and more environmentally-friendly than similar versions used to produce viscose, which is also cellulose-based, the project states. 

The chemicals used are less polluting, while systems re-use water and chemicals to minimise waste. Spinning units have also been improved and digitised to run more efficiently. Trials in late 2018 take the research further, testing another low-pollution fibre-production method, which is based on enzymes.

The fibres are strong and attractive enough to be spun into textiles for the fashion industry, currently dominated by cotton and polyester. A kilo of the recycled thread produces a third of the carbon emissions and consumes only 5% of the water of production of a kilo of cotton textile. 

In addition, there are almost none of the huge land requirements of cotton. Unlike polyester, the thread does not consume oil-based raw materials or shed plastic micro fibres into the environment. The recycled fibres could reduce the world’s growing mountain of textile waste and make fashion more sustainable.

Business interest

Waste processing companies, textile producers and a fashion designer also contributed to the demonstration. Their input helped TeKiDe to demonstrate that the fibre can be produced on a factory scale and has business potential. 

The start-up – Infinited Fiber Company Ltd (IFC) – is targeting the forestry and recycling industries as potential users of the process. Project members are also investigating applications such as hygiene or medical products.

Other publicly and privately funded projects are paying to use the demonstration platform under VTT’s plan for its long-term viability. The platform’s future is further ensured as part of Helsinki-Uusimaa region’s smart specialisation strategy and the roadmap of the National Research Infrastructures of Finland.

Beneficiaries

“Sustainable fashion is very important to me. The quality of this fabric is amazing. I was delighted to have the chance to work on this project and above all to test the fibres in my design for Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of European Parliament. I’m looking forward to using this material in my commercial lines.” 

 

Anna Ruohonen, Paris-based luxury fashion designer

 

“It has been motivational and inspiring to take part in developing a new technology to produce sustainable textile fibres. This is a concrete act towards solving the problem of mountains of textile waste. As a consumer, I don’t really want to buy second-hand clothes. However, modern fashion made from recycled fibres would be my choice in the future.”

 

Saara Hanhikoski, research scientist, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd.

Total investment and EU funding 

Total investment for the project “Demonstration Platform for Textile Fibre Recycling” is EUR 600 000, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 420 000 through the “Sustainable growth and jobs - Structural Funds Programme of Finland” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Low-carbon economy”.

 

Draft date

11/09/2018

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