Thursday, July 18, 2024

DIY Machine Converts Waste Into Dissolvable Textiles

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Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a DIY machine that spins textile fibers from sustainably sourced gelatin.

Imagine a T-shirt that can be worn multiple times, then dissolved and recycled to create a new garment. Researchers at the ATLAS Institute, University of Colorado Boulder, have brought this vision closer to reality. Engineers and designers introduced a DIY machine that spins textile fibers from materials like sustainably sourced gelatin. These “biofibers” resemble flax fiber and dissolve in hot water within minutes to an hour. 

The researchers mention that when these textiles are no longer wanted, they can be dissolved and the gelatin recycled to make more fibers. This approach addresses a significant environmental issue, as the Environmental Protection Agency reported that over 11 million tons of textiles ended up in U.S. landfills in 2018 alone. The team’s compact machine, costing just $560, is designed to fit on a desk, enabling designers globally to experiment with creating their own biofibers. They explain that this prototyping machine allows anyone to make fibers without needing large, expensive machines, and the fibers can be customized for strength, elasticity, and color.

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This innovation comes at a time when “smart textiles” are gaining popularity, as seen with Levi’s Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google, which integrates smartphone-connective sensors into denim. However, these advanced textiles face recycling challenges due to the difficulty of separating electronic components from fabrics, as pointed out by Rivera. The team started with gelatin—a protein found in animal bones and hooves often discarded by meat producers—and transformed this waste into wearable textiles. Their machine uses a plastic syringe to heat and extrude a liquid gelatin mixture, stretching it into long fibers similar to a spider spinning silk. These fibers can also undergo treatments to incorporate dyes or strengthen the material with additives like genipin.

As a proof of concept, the team created sensors from gelatin fibers, cotton, and conductive yarns. Submerging these patches in warm water dissolved the gelatin, allowing easy recycling of the remaining materials. They envisions further exploration of natural ingredients like chitin from crab shells or agar-agar from algae to expand the possibilities of eco-friendly textiles. They mentioned that they are thinking about the entire lifecycle of textiles, Starting with sourcing materials that would otherwise go to waste.

Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Gaur
Akanksha Sondhi Gaur is a journalist at EFY. She has a German patent and brings a robust blend of 7 years of industrial & academic prowess to the table. Passionate about electronics, she has penned numerous research papers showcasing her expertise and keen insight.


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