It takes up to 7,000 litres of fresh water to grow cotton for just one pair of jeans. And the demand for cotton is increasing – but it’s a limited resource. At the same time, tons of textiles are thrown away every day and end up as landfill. What if cotton could be recycled without any quality loss?
The innovation in a nutshell
Conversion of waste-cotton into new textile.
Let us explain
Cotton is one of our most loved textiles. But producing 1 kilo of cotton requires 10,000 litres of water. In recent years, production of this material has decreased while the demand has increased. Some studies predict demand will exceed supply by 20 million tons annually by 2030.
Finnish team Ioncell, based at Aalto University in Helsinki, developed a technology that turns used textiles, pulp – or even old newspapers – into new textile fibers. The process is sustainable and without harmful chemicals. The result are fibers that are even better than pure cotton fibers, the recycled fibers are strong, soft and shiny.
Since winning the award
Since receiving the award in 2016, the technology to recycle waste cotton and spin entirely new textile fibres progressed faster than Michael Hummel and his team anticipated.
In 2017, funding for two big projects were secured, focusing on further development of the technology as well as preparing for commercialization.
Since then, the Aalto University has granted Ioncell funding to build a pilot plant within the university. “This is an unprecedented undertaking and describes the trust we have received for this development. It will be an exciting but also intensive and critical phase. But the team has increased its competencies tremendously since its early days and we are confident to master this next step,” says Michael.
The pilot plant is due to open in 2020, then the next step is to invite industrial partners. “We will focus on garment and fabric manufacturers, and clothing and apparel businesses to support us in the further development and tailoring of the technology,” says Michael.
On the Global Change Award
“The Global Change Award boosted the development, not only through the grant, which allowed to intensify our research and development activities, but also through dissemination of our development via various channels that were opened and provided by the Global Change Award. The award gave us a broader and more international audience and made our technology more tangible. This also motivated our previous partners to stay dedicated to us, as well as new partners to join the development,” Michael Hummel.
Team members: Ali Harlin, Michael Hummel, Ilkka Kilpeläinen, Pirjo Kääriäinen, Herbert Sixta and Marjaana Tanttu