Research Helps Speed Cotton Processing
By Amy Spillman
February 4, 2003
Ultrasound's not just for
obstetricians anymore. Thanks to work being done by chemical engineer Val
Yachmenev and his colleagues at the Agricultural Research Service, the
technology--which has long been used by doctors to detect a pregnancy's
progress--may soon be used by textile manufacturers to speed up cotton
Yachmenev, who works in the
Chemistry Research Unit at ARS' Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New
Orleans, La., has found that ultrasound can intensify enzyme activity during
several different types of enzymatic treatments of cotton fibers.
Yachmenev and his SRRC colleagues have shown that introducing ultrasonic
energy during enzymatic treatments of cotton fabric results in shorter
processing times, less consumption of expensive enzymes, less fiber damage and
better uniformity of treatment to the fabric.
Enzymes are protein molecules that can speed up complex chemical reactions.
They act as catalysts, substances that initiate or accelerate chemical
reactions without themselves being affected. Human saliva, for example,
contains amylase, an enzyme that helps break down starchy foods into sugars.
Enzymatic treatments have been used for many years to remove the starch
that's added to cotton yarns to smooth and protect them from breaks during
weaving. But enzymes are now available for scouring (removing natural waxes and
pectins from the surface of cotton fibers), biofinishing (removing fiber fuzz
and pills from fabric surface) and biostoning (removing color and softening
denim fabrics for a "stone-washed" effect).
Yachmenev says that enzymes use significantly less water, less energy and
fewer chemicals than traditional methods. In addition, wastewater from
enzymatic treatments is readily biodegradable and does not pose an
However, although enzymatic processing offers many advantages, there are a
few drawbacks when compared to traditional methods--chiefly, expensive
processing costs and relatively slow reaction rates. Ultrasound technology may
help make up for these shortcomings.
Read more about how the technology works and its environmental benefits in
issue of Agricultural Research.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.