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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research

2009 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Design and create molecules that afford nonwovens resiliency in use and protection against open flames and microbial attack; design and prepare cotton-based polymer systems compatible with elastomers to generate new binary fibers and waterproof breathable membranes to make the products more useful as technical textiles; design and create cotton-derivatives that are water repellent and reactive with epoxies, isocyanates, and inorganic materials and explore their uses in making adhesives, coatings, and composites; and eliminate the need for sizing warp yarn for weaving. Develop processes for producing nonwoven fabrics from greige cotton.

This objective contributes to the 2010-2015 NP 306 Action Plan Component 2. Fibers, Problem Statement 2B: New or Improved Technologies, Processes or Products.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
The project will pursue research along four avenues. The first deals with generating molecules that impart dimensional stability and flame and microbial resistance to cotton, so that the new cotton derived materials pass or surpass in-use, stability, non-flammability, and antimicrobial test standards, as well as gain industrial acceptance. The second deals with polymer modified cotton fibers to enable cotton's use in new technical textiles, such as waterproof microporous membranes. The third searches for new water-repellent cotton derivatives that are reactive with epoxies, isocyanates, and inorganic materials for uses in adhesives, coatings, and composites. The fourth avenues focuses on eliminating sizing agents in warp yarn preparation to make weaving and textile operations efficient by creating reduced friction machine parts.

3.Progress Report
New flame-resistant chemical compounds have been synthesized and tested for flame resistance (FR) performance on cotton. Several large- and small-molecule systems show new promise in their FR and antimicrobial performance on cotton fabrics. Use of cotton fiber as a substrate for a useful composite material has been investigated. A fiber-reactive molecule for washable/durable FR was invented. Also, applications of existing and new non-washable, durable FR, and antimicrobial chemical systems (i.e., the so-called combination finishes) on cotton nonwoven substrates have been completed. These substrates are intended for use in mattresses and upholstery. The effectiveness of these FR treatments on virgin cotton was measured and determined to be satisfactory. A new, state-of-the-art pilot-scale nonwovens production and (chemical) finishing facility has been established, which includes a needlepunch machine, a hydro-entanglement (water-based) processing system, and a variety of laboratory equipment for special chemical treatments of fabrics. Research on size-free weaving was redirected towards development of cotton nonwovens. Significant progress has been made by way of establishing a modern, one-of-a-kind research facility for developing cotton nonwovens to increase value-added utilization of cotton.

1. Feasibility of processing virgin greige cotton on commercial nonwovens production equipment. Presently, less than 1% production of baled (greige) cotton is used in fabricating nonwoven fabrics. Preliminary research has shown that greige cotton can be efficiently processed on existing nonwovens production equipment with some, relatively small, modifications in fiber processing. Commercially successful incorporation of cotton – a natural, sustainable fiber – in modern nonwoven products will promote increased use of cotton, and thus, benefit the cotton growers, ginners, and users, who currently are under economic stress.

2. Economics of using discounted cottons and cotton derivatives (byproducts, e.g., motes, linters, processing waste fibers, etc.). Sub-grade cottons, cotton ginning byproducts (motes, linters), and cotton processing/recycling wastes cannot be used in the traditional textile processing (manufacturing) involving spinning, weaving, or knitting. Hence, these cottons and cotton derivatives literally fetch nothing (approximately 30 to 10 cents a pound, respectively), compared to what a regular, good-quality, standard cotton lint fetches (approximately 60 cents to $1.00 a pound). Based on very preliminary research, it appears that these cottons, either with or without special processing treatment, may be profitably utilized, via the nonwovens production route, to make value-added products, such as household, industrial, and personal-hygiene wipes, mobile textiles, mattress pads, and the like.

3. Economical fabrication of fire-retardant/fire-barrier cotton-rich fabrics/pads for mattresses and furniture. A low-cost, cotton-rich nonwoven pad has been developed by optimally using commercially available fire-retardant (FR) chemicals and fibers. The pad has passed the California legislated standard flammability tests for mattresses. An Agreement of Confidentiality with a U.S. firm has been signed to explore its application.

4. Flame- and stain-resistant cotton. Epoxy-based chemical formulations and their reactions on cotton can serve as models for future (diversified) cotton fiber finishing technology, which may be applied to attain durable (wash-fast) flame- and stain-resistances of cotton fabrics.

5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations
The U.S. cotton producers and ginners, especially those with small farms, are under measurable economic stress due to cotton’s depressed prices, sub-grade cottons, and cotton ginning derivatives (motes, linters, etc.) that sell for much less than the lint, and other factors. One way of assisting them is through providing critical technological services. With mutual collaboration with a prominent cotton grower and ginner, we are in the process of evaluating the feasibilities of using specially cleaned/processed cottons for cost-effective utilization, especially in production of cotton nonwovens. Based on the limited results, it seems that these super-clean, greige cottons can be efficiently converted into nonwoven fabrics that, if required, may be bleached and appropriately finished for certain aesthetic- and performance- specific applications. This development, if commercially successful, will eliminate the common practice of bleaching and cleaning cotton in fiber form (for nonwovens), which is costly, technically cumbersome, and detrimental to the environmental.

Last Modified: 4/17/2014
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