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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit

2009 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Enhancing value of fiber commodities, such as industrial fibers kenaf, flax, and cotton, through microbial and enzymatic activities. Design, develop, and test specific woven and non-woven materials for composites with specific properties and industrial applications. Specifically,.
1)optimize retting methods for separating high and consistent quality fibers from both seed- and fiber-type flax cultivars,.
2)develop standard methods and practices through established subcommittee D 13.17 of ASTM to objectively measure fiber properties,.
3)through ARS-USDA, governmental, and industrial collaborations, design and produce woven and non-woven flax fiber products for construction of composites for specific industrial applications.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Develop composites from flax fiber. Agricultural crops and products will be treated with microorganisms and enzymes that selectively remove fiber components and enhance value of products and processing methods. Treatments will be selected from available commercial enzymes and from newly isolated microorganisms and newly developed enzyme mixtures. Work will focus on improving retting procedures for obtaining fibers from bast plants such as kenaf and flax using enzyme mixtures containing pectinases, hemicellulases, and other non-cellulase enzymes that facilitate fiber separation from stems. Successful efforts at retting will be followed with research to scale up the process and work towards developing a commercial process for enzyme retting of bast fibers. Physical, chemical, and structural properties of treated fibers will be characterized by modern methods, and a body of knowledge will be developed to establish standards for evaluating fiber and fiber processing. New methods will be developed for rapid determination and evaluation of these standards.

3.Progress Report
This final progress report concludes the research project on flax fiber with an investigation of the degradation of composite materials prepared from flax fiber processing waste. The degradation rates of several composite formulations were measured in the laboratory to evaluate material performance for agricultural and environmental applications. The composites were exposed to simulated field conditions and analyzed by spectroscopic and chromatographic methods. These data were used to produce a rate expression to describe the breakdown of composites made from flax. Research conducted over the past five years has resulted in the development of new flax products, co-products, quality standards, pilot plant processes, and enzyme retting procedures to support the production of flax. Biobased products developed from flax culminated with a series of composite materials prepared from flax fiber. These materials were prepared without solvent or catalyst using renewable glycerol-based polyesters. Flax co-products included lipids, phenolics, and cellulosics recovered from flax fiber processing waste. An environmentally benign process was devised to recover these co-products using hot ethanol for extraction followed by sequential fractionation. This technology was extended to lignocellulosic materials in general and integrated with biomass-to-ethanol conversion facilities. Quality standards were established for flax and accepted by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) to evaluate commercial samples of flax fiber. The adoption of these methods promotes uniform grading and supports the flax market. A modular pilot plant was constructed specifically to process flax and produce clean flax fiber. The pilot plant was designed on large-scale commercial equipment and serves as both a research tool and small production facility. Retting procedures were developed for flax to facilitate the separation of the fiber from non-fiber components and provide a high quality product to compete with synthetic fibers. Additional details of these accomplishments are described in previous progress reports, numerous technical presentations, and fifteen journal articles.

Project termed 06/03/2009; due to realignment of research this project will not continue.

1. The degradation or breakdown of flax composite materials was measured in laboratory tests to predict how these materials would perform in the environment. All composite materials tested were prepared from renewable materials and degraded completely with the release of the original components. These components could be recovered and re-used or allowed to degrade naturally in the environment and return organic material to the soil. These results indicate that composites prepared from agricultural materials could be used in geotextile or landscape products and degrade into a beneficial soil amendment.

Review Publications
Himmelsbach, D.S., Holser, R.A. 2009. Application of 2D Correlation Spectroscopy with MCR in the Preparation of Glycerol Polyesters. Vibrational Spectroscopy. 51(1):142-145 (2009).

Last Modified: 4/20/2014
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