Deakin University Australia researchers Dr. Nolene Byrne and Ph.D. candidate Rasike De Silva have developed a simple process to separate polyester-cotton fabric blends into their individual components, a major breakthrough for textile recycling.
While it is easy to recycle cotton or polyester individually, fibers are tightly bonded in blends, so mechanical separation doesn’t work and chemical separation has, to date, both practical and environmental problems. By using an ionic liquid (salt in a liquid state), the Deakin researchers first dissolve the cotton component, regenerate the dissolved cotton into fibers and recycle the salt solution back into the process. The remaining polyester fibers can be melted and reshaped into fibers or plastics. Ionic liquids are an environmentally friendly solvent, unlike other chemical solutions commonly used to dissolve polyester.
The Technical Textiles & Nonwoven Association estimates that Australia landfills receive almost one trillion tons of textile, clothing and footwear waste each year. The researchers say the new process can also be applied to recycling any type of biocomposite material. Another benefit: regenerated cotton is growing in popularity as a precursor in the carbon fiber industry.
Source: Deakin University