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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit

2006 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? Why 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. In a broader sense, fundamental studies on structure and chemistry of agricultural materials generally are undertaken to gain insight into problems of fiber extraction, fiber characterization, and other potential biobased products. Results are then applied toward applicable industries, especially textiles, composites, or paper/pulp industries.

How serious is the problem and why does it matter? The NPS after extensive review in the 1990s determined that research is needed to develop a US source of flax fiber, initially for the textile area. With subsequent events, natural fibers are sought for a variety of purposes, especially composites. The U.S., while a major user of flax now for composites and other materials, produces no flax fiber and imports all that it uses. There is a consistent request for U.S. flax fiber. The primary problem is that the U.S. has no domestic source of flax fiber to fill these requests. The “does it matter” relates to efforts to supply domestic fiber needs for the U.S. industries and to improve the economics of the agricultural community by having another cash crop, especially a winter one in the south, and the use of a waste straw in the north. The research, addressing in general terms the area of bio-products, provides methods and knowledge for general development of bio-products from crops and crop residues.

2.List by year the currently approved milestones (indicators of research progress)
Year 1 (2005) 1. Add retting and secondary processing stages to Flax Fiber Pilot Plant. 2. Test various formulations using pilot plant cleaning systems. Year 2 (2006) 1. Begin tests with new and specific enzymes 2. Continue fundamental work on fineness, trash, and strength. 3. Follow test methods through subcommittee and committee of ASTM International 4. Begin work on fineness and trash standards Year 3 (2007) 1. Ret new samples of fiber and seed flax 2. Establish recommended enzyme/chelator formulations and retting conditions. 3. Process large scale flax samples for use in woven and non-woven products. 4. Determine optimal retting and processing steps for various composites. 5. Analyze samples with microspectroscopic methods, chemical analysis, and processing efficiency. Year 4 (2008) 1. Identify flax properties modified with enzymes 2. Begin large scale retting tests. 3. Begin tests with new and specific enzymes. 4. Address ballot reports. 5. Develop fineness standard. 6. Begin work for strength standard 7 Test on-line sensors in pilot plant based on shive model. 8. Develop trash standard- send to subcommittee Year 5 (2009) 1. Test textile and composite products with enzyme retted flax. 2. Report properties of enzyme-retted flax products and recommendations. 3. Report potential of specific enzyme mixtures. 4. Develop strength method 5. Address ballot report for trash 6. Report standards accepted by ASTM. 7. Test on-line sensors in pilot plant 8. Test on-line sensors in commercial plant.

4a.List the single most significant research accomplishment during FY 2006.
Title: Enzyme pretreatment releases aromatic compounds as potential co-products from biomass. This accomplishment addresses NP 306 and the Research Component“New Processes, New Uses, and Value-Added Foods and Biobased Products” through the expansion of the research project within the original objectives. Phenolic acid esterase was used to as a biological pretreatment to release potential aromatic co-products and improve the quality of biomass materials that could be used in bioenergy. Products released by esterase and subsequent cellulases were quantitated and compared for different materials. The outcome could be new environmentally friendly biological pretreatments and value-added co-products that help reduce costs of biomass products.

4d.Progress report.
Through collaborative efforts with the University of Georgia and the Southern Regional Research Center (New Orleans), nonwoven mats made with flax fiber and flax/cotton blends were tested for strength and thickness, by ASTM and AATCC standard test methods, after chemical treatment of for a potential use of heavy metal filtration fibers. Information provided information towards a potential new biobased product for using nonwoven flax mats for filtration of heavy metals. Through collaborative efforts with Clemson University and the Cotton Quality Research Station, Clemson, SC, large scale retting of flax and integration of two stage of cleaning was undertaken for flax fiber from linseed straw in the USDA Flax Fiber Pilot Plant in Clemson. This work showed that quality fiber could be produced from linseed straw using the enzyme-retting protocol and cleaning systems of the pilot plant,.

5.Describe the major accomplishments to date and 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 and published in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. 10) Initiation of research on linseed through various collaborators in North Dakota use the straw, which is now mostly burned and creates an environmental problem, to extract fiber, determine its properties, and test in various applications. 11) Project broadened to include research on structure, composition, and enzyme treatments of additional agricultural crops, including bioenergy crops, for value-added biobased products. The following list addresses the problem, i.e., need for research, of retting, processing, and evaluating flax for domestic biobased fiber. The last item (# 17) represents a broadened research effort using enzyme treatments and additional agricultural commodities to develop and evaluate potential value-added biobased products. These accomplishments all address NP 306 and the Research Component“New Processes, New Uses, and Value-Added Foods and Biobased Products” as indicated below. NP 306. 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. The broadened research goals address the use of enzymes to develop, characterize and enhance value-added, biobased products. 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. The broadened research goals address the current administrative focus on biobased products, especially for co-products from bioenergy crops.

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. This scenario depends on the establishment of a commercial industry who will invest in flax fiber. Expanded research for new biobased products from energy crops addresses problems associated with ARS laboratories involved with this new emphasis including: Dr. Bill Anderson, Coastal Plain Experiment Station, Tifton, GA; Dr. Mike Cotta and Bruce Dien, NCAUR, Peoria, IL; Dr. Kevin Hicks, ERRC, Wyndmoor, PA.

7.List your most important publications in the popular press and presentations to organizations and articles written about your work. (NOTE: List your peer reviewed publications below).
1. Akin, D.E. Standards for flax fiber, pp. 22-25. Standardization News. September. 2005.

Review Publications
Sohn, M., Himmelsbach, D.S., Akin, D.E., Barton II, F.E. 2005. Fourier transform near-infrared spectroscopy for determining linen content in linen/cotton blend products. Textile Research Journal. 75(8):583-590.

Akin, D.E., Morrison III, W.H., Rigsby, L.L., Barton II, F.E., Himmelsbach, D.S., Hicks, K.B. 2006. Corn stover fractions and bioenergy: chemical composition, structure and response to enzyme pretreatment. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology. 129-132:pp 104-116.

Foulk, J.A., Chao, W.Y., Akin, D.E., Dodd, R.B., Layton, P.A. 2006. Analysis of flax and cotton fiber fabric blends and recycled polyethylene composites. Polymers and the Environment. 14(1):15-25.

Liu, Z., Erhan, S.Z. 2006. "Green" composites and nanocomposites from soybean oil [abstract]. 14th International Conference on the Strength of Materials (ICSMA14). p. 103.

Foulk, J.A., Bauer, P.J., Akin, D.E., Busscher, W.J., Camp Jr, C.R., Ayala Silva, T., Dodd, R. 2005. Tillage effects on cotton and flax. Annual Southern Conservation Tillage Conference for Sustainable Agriculture, The Science of Conservation Tillage -- Continuing the Discoveries. Clemson University, Pee Dee Research and Education Center, Florence, SC, June 27-29, 2005. p.131-139.

Akin, D.E., Morrison III, W.H., Rigsby, L.L., Barton II, F.E., Himmelsbach, D.S., Hicks, K.B. 2005. Characteristics of corn stover for bioenergy. Proceedings of the 34th United States-Japan Cooperative Program in Natural Resources: Food and Agriculture Panel. pp. 136-139.

Akin, D.E. 2006. Developing standards to judge flax fibre quality. 28th International Cotton Conference (Bremen Germany). pp. 177-187.

Last Modified: 4/19/2014
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