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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Breakthroughs in Biomimicry, Recycling Unlock ‘Tarantula Blue’ Textiles, Closed-Loop Tencel

The latest textile innovations include a new TENCEL® made from cotton fabric waste, recently picked up by Patagonia, and a research breakthrough that could lead to ‘tarantula blue’ textiles.

The latest textile innovations include a new TENCEL® made from cotton fabric waste, recently picked up by Patagonia, and a research breakthrough that could lead to ‘tarantula blue’ textiles.

To make the virgin TENCEL from the cotton waste, Lenzing takes the fabric scraps from post industrial waste, removes any contaminants such as dyestuffs and resins and produces a cotton cellulose pulp. This pulp is blended with wood pulp adding only solvent and water and the only output is TENCEL® fiber and water. In keeping with the recycling efforts, during the lyocell process the solvent gets used over and over and over again, and the whole process uses 95 percent less water than it takes to produce cotton.

The TENCEL made from the cotton waste has the same behavioral properties as Lenzing’s traditional TENCEL made from wood pulp, and the company says that the fiber gives garments the same smooth hand consumers seek and the strength to have lasting power.

“It’s the first of its type and it meets the desire from the market for a high quality, recycled cellulosic fiber,” Lenzing business development and project manager Michael Kininmonth said. “The physical characteristics are as good as our standard product. Therefore there is no evidence of down-cycling whatsoever.”

The first garments using the new fiber will hit the market in Spring/Summer 2017. Patagonia will be the first to market in the United States.

“Patagonia pioneered recycled materials starting with polyester in our apparel in the 90s and we are always looking for new ways to incorporate recycled materials into our products,” senior director of global sportswear at Patagonia Helena Barbour said. “This revolutionary new material Lenzing has created takes pre-consumer waste cotton scraps and turns it into a high-quality TENCEL fiber that meets Patagonia’s rigorous performance standards. Partnering with Lenzing to bring this material to market was an easy choice for us and we are excited to launch our first products with it in the spring of 2017.”

Meanwhile, the science behind the blue color that makes the blue tarantula and peacock tail feathers so beautiful has thus far eluded replication. Created by optical effects when light passes through nanostructures of the right size, structural colours like those found in the blue tarantula are both more vibrant and durable than those found in human-made products, according to new research. What’s more, the researchers believe they can replicate the process to create better monitors and screens, as well as an alternative to pigments and coloring used in a wide range of material applications including metals, plastics, fibres and paper.

“This research is a ‘proof-of-concept’. Previously, no one ever thought non-iridescence can be achieved through highly order, periodic structures,” University of Akron professor Bor-Kai (Bill) Hsiung told Raw Story. “Our research not only demonstrated it’s possible in theory (simulation), but doable (physical 3D printed prototypes). However, to be able to turn our research into real world commercialization products, we now need to consider the practicality (time & money). So, our next step is to show that these structures can be mass produced cheaply. And we already have some ideas about how to achieve that next step (i.e., we already identified potential techniques necessary for achieving that goal).”

Hsiung later made the bold prediction that tarantula blue t-shirts could be introduced into the commercial market in a space of just 5 to 10 years. The discovery opens up significant opportunities in terms of the design of a whole range of goods and could lead to a way of producing colour that doesn’t involve mixing toxic dyes with raw materials.