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Researchers at Aarhus University have developed technology to increase textile recycling


This post is also available in: Danish

Textiles and fabrics are typically made by weaving, knitting or otherwise entangling fibers. Textile manufacturing goes back a long way in history, but in the modern world of mass production, there are challenges when it comes to the sustainable economy.

Today, textiles are among the most difficult materials to recycle, mainly due to the challenge of separating different fibers in clothing, with elastane, cotton and nylon among the most useful materials. Only around six percent of clothing discarded by Danish households is currently recycled, compared to 32 percent of all plastic packaging in Denmark.

The new technology developed by the research team uses a chemical process of heating the garment to 225 degrees Celsius and a combination of specific chemicals. The process, which lasts just over four hours, resembles a large pressure cooker where the textiles are placed.

“We have developed a method to completely remove elastane from nylon. We’re not quite there yet with cotton because some of the cotton fibers break down in the process. But we believe that with some minor adjustments, we can solve this problem. In other words, we can separate the fabric so that we can recycle far more textiles in the future,” says Steffan Kvist Kristensen, assistant professor at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (INANO) on Aarhus University’s news page.

Hoping for an industrial scale

So far, the research team has only conducted experiments with two nylons at a time, and the technology is not quite ready for industrial scale. Steffan Kvist Kristensen hopes that the industry will embrace the technology and scale it up to larger volumes of textiles.

The project is supported by funding from Innovation Fund Denmark, the Carlsberg Foundation, the Danish National Research Foundation and the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s CO2 Research Center (CORC). Aarhus University is co-owner of the patent covering the chemical process and can potentially benefit from industrial interest in the technology.

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