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New Lease on Life for Linters / October 13, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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New Lease on Life for Linters

By Jan Suszkiw
October 13, 1998

A new textile processing technique could breathe economic life into "linters"— short, curly hairs that get shaved off cotton seed and ground into pulp for making paper.

Linters are shaved off after the seed is first stripped of other, longer and more slender fibers called staples, at the cotton gin. Staples are processed and finished for apparel, towels and other products. Linters are removed at the cutting mill and then "pulped" at the paper mill.

But D.V. Parikh and Tim Calamari of the Agricultural Research Service envision a different fate for the lowly linter. The result could mean lowering the high cost of using staple fibers in absorbent wipes, cosmetic pads and other non-woven products. Both men are textile scientists at ARS' Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans. ARS is the chief research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Parikh and Calamari have invented a multi-step process for creating a new, non-woven fabric blend from a mixture of staple and linter fibers rescued from the cutting mill. The key step is carding. This process forces linters and staple fibers to combine to form a single, smooth sheet, or batt, that's very durable. The scientists have applied for patent protection on the process.

From the new blend, the scientists have produced soft, highly-absorbent wipes and pads with the same look, feel and quality of commercial products containing 100 percent cotton staple fibers. The short, thick linters impart bulk and porosity for better absorption. The staples confer strength, softness and esthetic qualities.

Additionally, the linters' raw materials cost is lower: roughly 18 cents a pound versus 80 cents or more for staples. Bleached linters cost about 50 cents a pound, compared to $1.35 for staples.

The scientists are seeking a commercial partner to help refine the bi-fiber blend.

Scientific contact: D.V. Parikh and Tim Calamari, Cotton Textile Engineering Research Unit, ARS Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, La., (504) 286-4541, fax (504) 286-4419, parikh@nola.srrc.usda.gov, calamari@nola.srrc.usda.gov.

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