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Textiles from plant waste project is funded

EcoNote | June 10, 2024 | By:

An academic researcher at the University of California, Riverside, has received a $1.45 million federal grant to advance the production of textiles from plant waste. The process, known as co-solvent-enhanced lignocellulosic fractionation (CELF), is described as a biomass pretreatment technology because it extracts lignin, a robust component of plant cell walls found in wood chips and other forms of plant-based biomass.

Targeting waste from wood processing, farming and industrial hemp production, the process turns the biomass into a viscous dissolving pulp that can then be made into lyocell fiber, which is commonly used as a substitute for cotton in sportswear and other garments.

The CELF process is said to be a much cleaner method for pulping biomass sources than the widely-used Kraft pulping method, which involves the digesting of wood chips at elevated temperature and pressure in a water solution of sodium sulphide and sodium hydroxide. 

Unlike Kraft, the CELF process does not produce black liquor waste, which is toxic and highly alkaline, making it particularly harmful to the environment and costly to treat. It is also said to use 5o percent less energy than the Kraft process to produce the same grade of dissolving pulp from plant waste.

Grant recipient Charles Cai, an associate research professor at UC Riverside, explained, “By using CELF, we can completely eliminate the production of black liquor, not only making the emissions of the entire operation cleaner, but also substantially reducing the amount of energy and the operating cost.

 “We can also use a variety of different feedstocks. We’re not limited to just using trees or tree waste, but we can also use agricultural wastes like sugar cane, corn stover and even industrial hemp.”

The grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy will be used to fund further development of the process, which can be intensified to make biofuels, including the fuel used for jet aircraft. It will allow Cai to scale up the process to produce 100 times more pulp than his previous laboratory-scale reactor.

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