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ARS Home » Southeast Area » New Orleans, Louisiana » Southern Regional Research Center » Cotton Structure and Quality Research » Research » Research Project #429229

Research Project: Improved Quality Assessments of Cotton from Fiber to Final Products

Location: Cotton Structure and Quality Research

2018 Annual Report

Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new rapid and accurate commercial methods to assess cotton fiber quality. Objective 2: Enable economical, accurate and real-time methods to assess product quality and process efficiencies in pre-mill operations. Objective 3: Enable new commercial methods to detect, quantify and remove undesirable non-lint materials such as various sugars, seed coat fragments, non-leaf plant trash, etc. from cotton. Objective 4: In collaboration with industry partners, determine the impact of fiber quality and fiber processing practices on yarn and fabric quality and processing efficiencies. Objective 5: In collaboration with industry partners, determine the expected impact of new germplasms, agronomic practices, and ginning practices upon fiber quality, textile processing efficiency, and final product quality.

The U.S. cotton and textile industries agree on the need to increase U.S. cotton’s value and global competitiveness. It is proposed that this need be met by enabling new technologies and methods for accurately assessing the quality and processing efficiencies of cotton fiber at various processing stages from field to fabric. The first objective addresses the need for new rapid and accurate fiber quality assessments in the laboratory. Comprehensive evaluations will be conducted to broaden the technical and commercial attractiveness of image analysis, spectroscopy, microscopy, and color technologies to discern new measurements, with initial emphasis on 3-dimensional color, maturity, fineness, fiber diameter, fiber structure, and the relationship of these properties to key fiber quality properties. The second objective addresses the need for economical, accurate and real-time methods to assess product quality and process efficiencies outside of the laboratory in pre-mill operations. Comprehensive evaluations with state of the art spectroscopy and imaging instrumentation will be conducted to develop new quality measurement and monitoring methods for pre-harvest and post-harvest applications and operations. The third objective addresses the need for new assessments of non-lint materials and contaminants to provide improved tools for measuring, controlling and removing these non-lint materials. The development of rapid, accurate and non-destructive image scanning of seed coat fragments (SCF) and seed coat neps (SCN) will be developed, and these techniques will be used to understand what the AFIS is sensing when measuring SCN in fiber. Comprehensive evaluations with advanced chemical imaging spectroscopy technologies will be conducted to establish rapid detection and trash type identification protocols. State-of-the-art elemental analysis, chromatography, and spectroscopy technologies will be used to develop chemical measurements of fiber surface species, to include metal ions, sugars, amino acids/proteins, pectins, and waxes. These properties will be correlated to properties impacting fiber processing efficiency (i.e., stickiness and fiber friction). The fourth objective addresses the need for determining fiber quality-processing practices relationships and their impacts on product quality and processing efficiencies. In-house traditional and non-traditional quality measurements and textile processing will be used to determine the efficacy of these tests to predict processing efficiency and yarn/fabric quality and to understand the impact of fiber properties and processing on textile quality and efficiencies. The fifth objective addresses the need for determining the fiber quality-processing efficiency-product quality relationships. Comprehensive evaluations will be conducted on new germplasms using fiber quality and miniature-scale ring spinning. Advanced spectroscopic technologies will be used to characterize developing cotton fibers and their fine structure, their cell walls and physical properties.

Progress Report
Progress was made on the five current objectives, all of which fall under National Program 306, Component 2, Non-Food Product Quality and New Uses. Progress on this project focuses on Problem A, collaboration with industrial partners to develop new post-harvest technologies, Problem B, enable technologies for expanding market applications of existing biobased products, and Problem C, collaborate with breeders and production researchers in the development of both new cultivars/hybrids and new production practices/systems that optimize the quality and production traits of crop-derived products and byproducts for conversion into non-food biobased products. Significant progress has been made on developing new post-harvest technologies in partnership with industrial partners on topics including measurement of fiber properties with infrared spectroscopy and cotton stickiness. Significant progress has also been made in collaboration with breeders and production researchers on developing new measurement techniques and identifying novel quality parameters such as the distribution of color within a cotton sample. The needs of the textile industry have been central in guiding the work to ensure U.S. cotton remains the world’s first choice in cotton. Color of cotton fiber, as measured by the High Volume Instrument (HVI), plays a large role in determining the economic value of cotton. Color variation in finished goods, sometimes referred to as moiré or barré, is one of the leading causes of financial claims against spinning mills. As part of Objective 1, an image analysis method was developed to calculate the distribution of the red, green, and blue color components within a sample. The technique is applicable to raw fibers, dyed fibers and processed fabrics to study different aspects of cotton color. Fabrics made from fibers with different micronaire values (a measure of cotton fiber fineness and maturity) were tested initially. Plans are in place to extend the work to raw cotton samples with different fineness and maturity values to allow the impact of micronaire components to be evaluated. Components of this work have received industry funding and are being utilized by several U.S. textile mills and industry groups. Infrared spectroscopy measurements have been part of several objectives. Previous work within Objective 1, led to methods of measuring fiber properties, such as micronaire and maturity, using near infrared light (which is not visible to humans) in controlled laboratory environments. Under Objective 2, this technique was deployed into a commercial cotton gin to gather spectral data on several thousand bales of cotton. Prediction models were built using the spectral data and physical testing results. Multiple sources of error were identified, such as temperature, relative humidity, non-lint content, and fiber orientation, and efforts are being made to overcome these sources of error. Several commercial gins have expressed interest in the technology as a potential way to assess fiber quality during ginning. Attenuated total reflectance Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, a reliable chemical fingerprinting technique, is being explored to measure the presence of silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) and cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii) residues on cotton (Objectives 3 and 5). This work is intended to provide early detection of a condition known as “sticky cotton”, in which excess entomological sugars on the fiber causes processing problems. The value of cotton produced in the western U.S. is being reduced because of insect sugar contamination. The existing tests for sticky cotton are based on either mechanical or thermal properties and are thought to be inaccurate. Over 500 commercial samples of cottons produced in areas with whitefly pressure were tested, and the mechanical and thermal tests demonstrated less than 70% agreement. The new technique is showing the potential for detecting the problem sugars on ginned lint and seed cotton, and will allow gins and textile mills to identify the problem of stickiness prior to the sugars impacting equipment operation. Attenuated total reflectance Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy was used to measure cellulose content, fiber maturity, crystallinity index, and the development of the secondary cell wall during fiber development (Objectives 1 and 2). This work is being utilized by researchers in the Cotton Fiber Bioscience and the Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Units in New Orleans, Louisiana, to aid in breeding studies focused on cellulose deposition and fiber development. Machine harvesting of cotton results in some non-lint content in bales of ginned lint (Objective 3). This material can include plant particles, insect residues, and man-made materials, such as plastics. Research was performed to demonstrate the impact of non-lint content on the measurement of micronaire. Micronaire is normally measured via air-flow through a compressed cotton sample. The presence of non-lint content was demonstrated to interfere with the readings. Textile mill trials were also conducted to determine the fate of plastic contaminants during yarn processing. Standard textile processing equipment was found to remove greater than 90% of the most common types of plastic contaminants. However, small plastic pieces were not removed, and these can still cause unacceptable yarn and fabric defects. As part of Objectives 4 and 5, spinning and knitting trials were conducted to demonstrate the potential of fiber quality parameters to predict the ability of cotton fiber to be converted into textile products. Fiber samples representing all regions of U.S. cotton production and different agronomic practices (such as variations in irrigation, harvesting and ginning methods) were processed. Spinning tests were able to discern the impact of harvesting and ginning practices on yarn quality and spinning efficiency even when traditional fiber quality measurements were unable to detect differences. Routine and novel measurements, such as fiber property distributions and frictional characteristics, were taken during processing trials to assess the utility of these new measurements. Energy consumption during processing has been a focus of the work as it is a major expense for textile processors. Improved measurements are needed to understand the impact of changes in cotton production practices and new varieties. For example, as cotton yields have increased, the physical diameter of the fiber has increased. This has been shown to be more accurately measured by newly developed fiber fineness techniques than by traditional techniques. Coarse fiber limits the fineness of the resulting yarn, and it affects the dyeability, color, and the appearance of the final textile. The efficacy of new measurement techniques must be validated by demonstrating the utility of the measurement in textile processing. Within Objective 5, infrared imaging studies were performed on developing fibers and cotton products with various chemical treatments. The infrared microscope has led to improvements in previously developed techniques, which can be applied to study fiber development and the distribution of chemical finishes on textiles. This work is being utilized by ARS researchers in the Cotton Chemistry Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans, Louisiana. Over 650 samples from the National Cotton Variety Trials (NCVT) were subjected to fiber testing and processing in support of the ARS Crop Genetics Research Unit in Stoneville, Mississippi. Results were reported back to the NCVT committee for dissemination to the public to allow producers to make planting decisions based on fiber quality and yarn processing results. Researchers also explore this data to track historical trends as well as to study the effects of varietal and environmental differences on fiber properties. Samples from the NCVT have been used as research materials for other parts of the project plan, such as spectroscopy studies on fiber maturity and chemical analyses for wax and metals content. Cotton is a highly variable natural product, and as such, it is standard practice for textile mills to blend between 30 and 100 bales in an attempt to produce more consistent and repeatable products. Precision agriculture enables the variability within a field to be measured, and there is interest from the cotton industry to use that data to blend seed cotton of various qualities during ginning to produce more uniform bales with a higher economic value. Within Objective 4, processing trials were carried out in collaboration with the ARS Cotton Production and Processing Research Unit in Lubbock, Texas, to evaluate the impact of blending cotton at the gin compared to blending cotton at the mill. The results demonstrate the potential of gin blending, however, work is still needed to integrate data from digital agriculture into the cotton gin to allow the industry to proceed. Fiber elongation is of interest to the textile industry; however, there is no agreed upon high-speed test available to measure fiber elongation. A method to calibrate the HVI to allow for fiber elongation testing has been proposed, but it has not been independently verified. An international round robin trial (the same set of samples tested in different laboratories) was carried out in partnership with the Agricultural Marketing Service in Memphis, Tennessee, and several domestic and international collaborators. Samples were sent to collaborators for testing alongside a pair of cottons of known elongation. Initial results demonstrated the feasibility of using these samples to calibrate the HVI for elongation testing.

1. Novel non-destructive cellulose content measurement technique developed. Cotton fibers are made up almost entirely of cellulose. The amount of cellulose and orientation of the cellulose within the fiber determines many of the physical characteristics of the fiber. Traditionally, measuring cellulose content is a time-consuming destructive chemical process. ARS researchers at New Orleans, Louisiana, have correlated the cellulose content of cotton fiber with attenuated total reflectance Fourier transform-infrared spectral data. The procedure takes less than five minutes for simultaneous measurement of cellulose content, maturity and crystallinity while using sample quantities as low as 0.5 mg. The test replaces multiple time-consuming and labor-intensive procedures to measure each property independently. The proposed procedure will benefit cotton genomics researchers, who work with limited amounts of fiber.

2. Measurement of cotton fiber properties using near infrared techniques at cotton gins. Every bale of cotton ginned in the U.S. is tested for certain properties by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS); however, there is a delay between bales arriving at warehouses and test results being provided due to samples having to be transported, conditioned and tested at a AMS office. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, have designed a robotic system that was deployed in a commercial gin to gather near-infrared spectral data in real-time on bales as they are ginned. This data was correlated with testing results from AMS with the goal of providing immediate data on fiber micronaire (a measure of cotton fiber fineness and maturity) and strength to improve the logistics of handling bales. Improved logistics will not only save the industry time and energy, but the reduced movements of bales will help to preserve fiber quality.

3. Sticky cotton testing method developed. Sticky cotton is caused by excessive insect excretions on cotton, which results in processing difficulties for cotton gins and textile mills due to fibers sticking to machine components. Textile mills discount cotton from areas prone to insect activity, as the efficiency of textile processing can be greatly reduced. The lack of standardized testing has led the industry to penalize production areas based on perceived reputation. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, have tested many commercial samples using existing methods to demonstrate the lack of agreement and repeatability in the available methods. Therefore, there is little scientific basis to penalize cotton producers based on the results of these tests. While the problem of sticky cotton still exists, this work gives the cotton industry evidence of the shortcomings of the current methods. U.S. cotton producers and merchants have used the results of this work to demonstrate that claims of sticky cotton are often due to false positives. Work continues on developing an accurate detection method to further protect the reputation of U.S. cotton on the world market.

Review Publications
Delhom, C.D., Martin, V.B., Schreiner, M.K. 2017. Textile industry needs. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:210-219.
Peralta, D.V., Thibodeaux, D.P., Delhom, C.D., Rodgers, J.E., Boykin, D. 2018. Approaches to quantitating the results of differentially dyed cottons. Textile Research Journal. 0(00):1-11.
Baker, K.D., Delhom, C.D., Hughs, S.E. 2017. Spindle diameter effects for cotton pickers. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 33(3):321-327.
Edwards, J.V., Fontenot, K.R., Prevost, N.T., Nam, S., Concha, M.C., Condon, B.D. 2016. Synthesis and assessment of peptide-nanocellulosic biosensors. In: Mondal, Md.I.H., editor. Nanocellulose, Cellulose Nanofibers and Cellulose Nanocomposites. New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc. p. 475-494.
Holt, G.A., Wedegaertner, T.W., Wanjura, J.D., Pelletier, M.G., Delhom, C.D., Duke, S.E. 2017. Development and evaluation of a novel bench-top mechanical cottonseed delinter for cotton breeders. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:18-28.
Kim, H.J., Lee, C.M., Dazen, K., Delhom, C.D., Liu, Y., Rodgers III, J.E., French, A.D., Kim, S.H. 2017. Comparative physical and chemical analyses of cotton fibers from two near isogenic upland lines differing in fiber wall thickness. Cellulose. 24:2385-2401.
Kim, H.J., Liu, Y., French, A.D., Lee, C.M., Kim, S.H. 2018. Comparison and validation of Fourier transform infrared spectroscopic methods for monitoring secondary cell wall cellulose from cotton fibers. Cellulose. 25:49-64.
Liu, Y. 2017. Chemical, compositional and structural characterisation of cotton fibers. In: Gordon, S., Abidi, N., editors. Cotton Fibres: Characteristics, Uses and Performance. Hauppauge, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc. p. 3-19.
Liu, Y., Delhom, C.D. 2017. The relationship between instrumental leaf grade and Shirley Analyzer trash content in cotton lint. Textile Research Journal. 88(10):1091-1098.
Liu, Y., Kim, H.J. 2017. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR) and simple algorithm analysis for rapid and non-destructive assessment of developmental cotton fibers. Sensors. 17(7):1469.
Liu, Y., Kim, H.J. 2017. Characterization of developmental immature fiber (im) mutant and Texas Marker-1 (TM-1) cotton fibers by Attenuated Total Reflection Fourier Transform Infrared (ATR FT-IR) spectroscopy. Applied Spectroscopy. 71(7):1689-1695.
Nam, S., French, A.D., Condon, B.D., Concha, M.C. 2016. Segal crystallinity index revisited by the simulation of x-ray diffraction patterns of cotton cellulose IB and cellulose II. Carbohydrate Polymers. 135:1-9.
Santiago Cintron, M., Johnson, G.P., French, A. 2017. Quantum mechanics models of the methanol dimer: O-H…O hydrogen bonds of ß-D-glucose moieties from crystallographic data. Carbohydrate Research. 443-444:87-94.
Sui, R., Byler, R.K., Delhom, C.D. 2017. Effect of nitrogen application rate on yield and quality in irrigated and rainfed cotton. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:113-121.
Zumba, J., Rodgers III, J.E., Indest, M. 2017. Impact of temperature and relative humidity on the near infrared spectroscopy measurements of cotton fiber micronaire. Textile Research Journal.
Dowd, M.K., Pelitire, S.M., Delhom, C.D. 2018. Seed-fiber ratio, seed index, and seed tissue and compositional properties of current cotton cultivars. Journal of Cotton Science. 22:60-74.