Processing of Algiknit fibres in textile industries

Excerpt: Biomaterials research group AlgiKnit, is doing its bit for the environment by aiming to create a biomaterial alternative that serves as a replacement for everyday, man-made textiles such as polyester

IN view of resources dwindling fast and natural fibres like cotton being resource-intensive to process and petroleum-based fibres like acrylic, polyester, nylon and spandex not being the most environmentally friendly, it is about time to look for sustainable alternatives when producing fibres and fabrics.

Biomaterials research group AlgiKnit, is doing its bit for the environment by aiming to create a biomaterial alternative that serves as a replacement for everyday, man-made textiles such as polyester. AlgiKnit Inc. is a biomaterials company integrating science and design into textile production. Addressing the ecological damage caused by the fashion industry, AlgiKnit is creating durable yet rapidly degradable yarns. The company is working on a prototype of a T-shirt and sneakers will be next.

Their goal is to keep fashion products from filling landfills and causing microplastic pollution and is to create a sustainable BioYarn that can quickly biodegrade after its use-life is over and can be recycled through the earth's biological systems. Chiefly, they are using alginate, a biopolymer derived from kelp, to do this. The seaweed is “rapidly replenishable and one of the fastest growing organisms in the world”. AlgiKnit makes a bio yarn from kelp, seaweed or algae via the readily abundant biopolymer 'alginate'.Bio yarn is renewable, closed-loop and good for the environment. The company is currently analysing its properties to see if the fibre is strong and flexible enough to be knitted on an industrial power machine.

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. It is also a $1.2 trillion global industry, with more than $250 billion spent annually on fashion in the United States alone, according to industry analysts.

The goal of AlgiKnit is to eventually replace petroleum-based materials and become a go-to zero waste fabric suitable for clothing and footwear. They aim to operate in a closed loop product lifecycle, utilizing materials with a significantly lower environmental footprint than conventional textiles, to bring sustainable bio-based textile alternatives to the footwear and apparel industries.

Algae grows 10 times more rapidly than terrestrial plants, and less than a tenth of the land is needed to produce an equivalent amount of biomass. It grows on non-productive and non-arable land, so it doesn't compete with other crops for land. Because it doesn't require fresh water, it can be fertilized more efficiently than land crops, and you can avoid the intensive water usage, wasteful fertilizer runoff, and downstream eutrophication associated with modern agriculture.

The company develops biomaterials from the most renewable and fasted growing organisms on earth - kelp, laminaria digitata to be precise, a large brown alga also known as oarweed. It grows up to 10 times faster than bamboo and is grown in aquatic farms around the world in coastal communities, often by fishermen and women, thus providing income for them during off-season.

Kelp in coastal waters also absorbs nutrients from agricultural and sewer run-off that can alter coastal environments. Kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on earth and is readily available worldwide. This recaptures nutrients for the next generation of biomaterials and thus improves the environment. Kelp is thus an ideal material for the future of sustainable manufacturing. From kelp, AlgiKnit extracts alginate and combines it with other renewable biopolymers to produce yarn, which is strong enough and stretchable enough to be knitted by hand or by machine to be used in textile manufacturing. The final product can be dyed with natural pigments.

“They use an extrusion process to turn the biopolymer mixture into a filament. They extrude the mixture into a salt bath that cures the bio yarn”, explains AlgiKnit. But that is not all, to minimise waste, all products are knit to shape. This technique allows AlgiKnit to produce products with little to no waste.

And when the textile's life cycle comes to an end? No problem - it can be reused. “When it's worn out or you don't want it, it can be broken down by microorganism and the nutrients reclaimed to feed the next generation of product,” says AlgiKnit co-founder Aleksandra Gosiewski. “I envision a future where the materials we use can be transformed to feed the next generation of products.”

AlgiKnit is participating in the 2018 RebelBio Accelerator program in London. Their participation is part of a 100,000 US dollar investment deal through RebelBio and their parent company SOSV. The company has also been chosen as one of the 15 start-ups that will take part in Fashion for Good's Plug and Play accelerator initiative.

AlgiKnit was founded by Tessa Callaghan, Aaron Nesser, Aleksandra Gosiewski, Theanne Schiros and Asta Skocir and grew out of BioEsters, the winning team from the 2016 BioDesign Challenge. AlgiKnit's investors include RebelBio and SOSV. In 2017, AlgiKnit beat 2,800 submissions to win National Geographic's Chasing Genius award in the Sustainable Planet category, receiving the $25,000 prize along with three other ventures.

AlgiKnit is continuing to pursue a material-driven design approach to biopolymer-based materials with generous support from the Fashion Institute of Technology. It is also supported by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC), National Geographic and start-up accelerator RebelBio.

Author Details

Dr. N. N. Mahapatra

Business Head ( Dyes )

Shree Pushkar Chemicals & Fertilisers Ltd. Goregaon (E), Mumbai - 400 063, India