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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit

2005 Annual Report

1.What major problem or issue is being resolved and how are you resolving it (summarize project aims and objectives)? How serious is the problem? What does it matter?
The U.S. is the largest per capita user of linen, but no flax is grown commercially for fiber by U.S. farmers and linen is not produced in this country. The NPS determined that research should be carried out towards the development of a U.S. flax/linen industry to supply high and consistent quality fibers to textiles and other fiber-using industries, especially those using natural fibers for reinforced composites. Two major technical problems impeding development of such industries are the lack of new retting methods to extract fiber from stems for clean and consistent quality fibers, and lack of standards to judge processing and fiber quality. To address these problems, research is being conducted on an enzymatic retting method to replace the current method of dew-retting, which depends upon indigenous microorganisms and field conditions. For standards, research is being conducted, often with collaborators at the University of Georgia, at Clemson University, and the Cotton Quality Research Station, ARS-USDA, Clemson, SC, on fiber color, fineness, strength, length, and trash (nonfiber) content. Fundamental studies on structure and chemistry are undertaken to gain insight into problems of fiber extraction and fiber characterization. Results are then applied toward industry needs in textiles, composites, or paper/pulp industries.

2.List the milestones (indicators of progress) from your Project Plan.
1. Add retting and secondary processing stages to Flax Fiber Pilot Plant. 2. Test various formulations using pilot plant cleaning systems. 3. Ret new samples of fiber and seed flax. Establish recommended enzyme/chelator formulations and retting conditions. 4. Process large scale flax samples for use in woven and non-woven products. 5. Determine optimal retting and processing steps for various composites. 6. Test textile and composite products with enzyme retted flax. 7. Report properties of enzyme-retted flax products and recommendations. 8. Begin tests with new and specific enzymes. 9. Analyze samples with microspectroscopic methods, chemical analysis, and processing efficiency. 10. Identify flax properties modified with enzymes. 11. Begin large scale retting tests. 12. Report potential of specific enzyme mixtures. 13. Continue fundamental work on fineness, trash, and strength methods. 14. Follow test methods through subcommittee and committee of ASTM International. 15. Begin work on fineness and trash standards. 16. Address ballot reports. Develop fineness standard. Begin work for strength standard. 17. Develop strength standard. Address ballot report for trash. Report standards accepted by ASTM. 18. Test on-line sensors in pilot plant. 19. Test on-line sensors in commercial plant.

4a.What was the single most significant accomplishment this past year?
A commercial enzyme was tested in our system and resulted in significantly improved fiber strength over previous enzyme formulations. Other enzyme mixtures that are effective in retting reduce fiber strength due to the presence of cellulases along with the other enzymes. A commercial enzyme was integrated in our retting and pilot plant cleaning systems and tested with new methods for standards developed through ASTM. Flax fiber strength was significantly improved, and other properties were equal or better than other enzyme-retting formulations. The outcome is that enzyme-retting produces fibers of strength that could facilitate replacement of glass fiber with natural fiber in composites. Potential results are huge savings in energy (the production cost of natural fibers is estimated to be reduced 80% over that with glass fiber) and use of flax in composites for a variety of applications.

4b.List other significant accomplishments, if any.

4c.List any significant activities that support special target populations.

4d.Progress report.
The secondary cleaning stages to 'cottonize' flax fiber are being implemented through collaborative efforts with Clemson University and the Cotton Quality Research Station. Once completed, a series of fibers with various properties can be produced in sufficient quantities for testing in textiles, non-woven applications, and other products. 'Standard Test Method For Assessing Clean Flax Fiber Fineness,' based on an airflow method used in our work for several years, was accepted as a new standard by ASTM International with the number D 7025-04. Currently, there are 3 accepted test standards for flax fiber, where there were none 3 years ago.

5.Describe the major accomplishments over the life of the project, including their predicted or actual impact.
1) Collaborative agreements with the University of Georgia and Clemson University to coordinate equipment and expertise related to enzymology, textiles, and engineering for development of a flax fiber industry. 2) Development, with colleagues at the University of Georgia and Clemson University, a new laboratory procedure using pectinase-rich enzyme mixtures and chelators applied to crimped stems to ret flax. 3) Establishment of the US Flax Initiative, which was an interim consortium of state and federal scientists and administrators and industry representatives for promoting a US flax/linen industry. 4) Establishment in 1998 of the Center for American Flax Fiber (CAFF) as a not-for-profit organization to promote all aspects of a fiber flax industry in the U.S. and which helped organize four flax workshops. 5) Establishment of subcommittee D13.17 (Flax and Linen) of ASTM International to develop industry standards for judging quality of flax fibers. 6) Memorandum of Understanding with Biolin Research Inc., Saskatchewan, Canada, to study spectroscopic methods to estimate fiber contents in diverse flax varieties. 7) Establishment, with collaborators, the USDA Flax Fiber Pilot Plant to integrate retting and processing using commercial-type equipment but with flexible adjustments for research studies. 8) In the bridging research project, the accomplishments above were brought together to specifically address the development of a project to manufacture (on pilot plant scale) and test non-wovens products from a variety of types of flax fiber. 9) Acceptance of 4 standards on flax through ASTM International. 10) Initiation of research on linseed through various collaborators to use the straw, which is now mostly burned and creates an environmental problem, to extract fiber, determine its properties, and test in various applications.

RELEVANCE TO ARS NATIONAL PROGRAM ACTION PLAN. RESEARCH PROPOSED HEREIN ADDRESSES THE TWO NP 306 COMPONENTS: a. Component 1 (Quality characterization, preservation, and enhancement). The quality, preservation, and enhancement of bio-based fibers, specifically flax, are addressed through the multiple steps of this project. Methods and standards are developed for several properties, including strength, fineness, color, trash, of flax fibers from new retting methods and processing procedures. These properties are enhanced through enzyme applications for specific industrial uses. b. Component 2. (New processes, new uses, and value-added biobased-products). Enzyme-retting provides for a sustainable, environmentally friendly method to produce consistent, high-quality fibers. These bio-based fibers may serve as a replacement for glass fibers in bio-based composites, textile blends with cotton and other fibers for value-added niche markets, and value-added pulp for specialty papers from domestically produced flax.

6.What science and/or technologies have been transferred and to whom? When is the science and/or technology likely to become available to the end-user (industry, farmer, other scientists)? What are the constraints, if known, to the adoption and durability of the technology products?
Test samples of enzyme-retted flax fibers have been provided to ARS laboratories for evaluation of yarn blends. Flax fiber was made available for blending with other fibers for nonwoven fabrics. Interaction with the Center for American Flax Fiber is maintained on a regular basis to provide updated research information for distribution to commercial and scientific interests. Direction is provided to the Flax and Linen subcommittee of ASTM International for development of flax standards, which currently include ones for terminology, color, fineness, and trash. Information on the potential use of seed flax straw residues was given to the North Dakota Council on Oilseeds, and collaborative research was established with North Dakota State University. Research results were provided to the Flax Institute at its technical meetings. A method for measuring flax fiber in plants was developed with collaborators in ARS and provided the basis for a method in Canada to test field plots for fiber yield. Technical information has been provided to universities to promote work on textiles and industrial fibers through lectures to students, collaborative projects with professors, and interaction with staff and students. Information on enzyme-retting, standards development, and establishment of a flax fiber pilot plant have been made available to university, government, and commercial personnel at several international meetings. The major constraint is the lack of consistency in a domestic industrial base for flax fibers. Collaborators are sought within the linseed industry, which has fiber sources (waste linseed straw) and could benefit economically from a secondary product from straw, which is now an environmental disposal problem. Production of a high-value, clean fiber from linseed straw is the challenge. The technology for flax fiber production in its entirely should be available to processors and farmers within 5-7 years, with some portions available within 3-5 years.

Review Publications
Akin, D.E., Dodd, R.B., Foulk, J.A. 2005. Pilot plant for processing flax fiber. Industrial Crops and Products. 21:369-378.

Sohn, M., Barton II, F.E., Morrison III, W.H., Akin, D.E. 2004. Prediction of shive content in pilot plant processed flax by NIR reflectance spectroscopy. Near Infrared Spectroscopy Journal. 12(4):251-258.

Sohn, M., Barton II, F.E., Akin, D.E., Morrison III, W.H. 2004. A new approach for estimating purity of processed flax fiber by NIR spectroscopy. Near Infrared Spectroscopy Journal. 12:259-262.

Anderson, W.F., Peterson, J., Akin, D.E., Morrison Iii, W.H. 2005. Enzyme-pretreatment of grass lignocellulose for potential high-value co-products and an improved fermentable substrate. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology. 121-124:303-310.

Foulk, J.A., Akin, D.E., McAlister III, D.D. 2004. Fiber crops: cotton and cottonized flax. Cotton International World Report. February 2004. pp 8-10.

Akin, D.E., Dodd, R.B., Foulk, J.A., Morrison III, W.H. 2004. Research to develop and support a US flax fiber industry. In: Proceedings of the 33rd United States-Japan Cooperative Program in Natural Resources, December 8-21, 2004, Honolulu, Hawaii. p. 96-100.

Liu, Z., Akin, D.E., Barton Ii, F.E., Onwulata, C.I., Erhan, S.Z. 2004. Preparation of soy-based composites reinforced with protein coated flax fiber. UJNR Food & Agricultural Panel Proceedings. p. 134.

Dodd, R.B., Akin, D.E. 2005. Recent developments in retting and measurement of fiber quality in natural fibers: pros and cons. In: Mohanty, A.K., Misra, M., Drzal, L. T., editors. Natural Fibers, Biopolymers, and the Biocomposites.Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press. p. 141-157.

Akin, D.E., Dodd, R.B., Foulk, J.A., Morrison III, W.H. 2005. Flax research in the US: production, retting, processing and standards. In: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference for Renewable Resources and Plant Biotechnology, June 6-7, 2005, Poznan, Poland. CDROM.

Annis, P.P., Akin, D.E., Foulk, J.A., Dodd, R.B., Vaughn, E.A., Knopp, J.A., Brewer, M.S. 2005. Cotton flax blended nonwoven fabrics with value-added properties for industrial markets. In: Proceedings of the National Cotton Council Beltwide Cotton Conference, New Orleans, LA, January 4-7. p. 2780-2786.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
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