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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

2020 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 all objectives, under National Program 306, Component 2, Non-Food Product Quality and New Uses. As this is the final project report, the first portion of the progress report is on the last 12 months and then a summary of progress for the entire project is provided. There has been significant progress in developing new technologies in partnership with industry partners on topics including measurement of cotton color, maturity, fineness, and elongation. Progress has been made in applying measurement techniques outside the laboratory. Objective 1, studies were conducted by ARS researchers from New Orleans, Louisiana, on inter-sample color variation and the relationship between physical fiber properties and the dye-uptake of textile goods. The color of dyed goods was previously found to have a strong relationship with fiber maturity, fineness, and micronaire but not the color of the raw cotton. Maturity, deposition of cellulose in the secondary cell wall, can differ in distribution between samples with the same mean value. Distribution of maturity within a sample impacts the uptake of dye. These findings are essential to address color variation in finished cotton goods, a leading cause of financial claims made against spinning mills. In Objective 1, infrared spectra were used to gather information about the distribution of maturity within a sample. Objective 2, this technique was deployed into a commercial cotton gin to gather spectral data on several thousand bales of cotton during multiple seasons. Models of maturity developed using data collected outside the laboratory were shown to be significantly different from models developed inside the laboratory. Crystallinity index, the degree of crystallinity of cellulose in the fiber, was found to be a more stable measurement outside of the laboratory than the direct measurement of maturity. Crystallinity index measurements show potential for controlling the ginning process to preserve fiber quality. Samples were collected from multiple commercial locations to study the ability to predict fiber quality response to ginning by measurements of crystallinity index. Objective 1, work continued on a robotic arm for measuring the properties of bales in a gin. An enclosed lighting system and camera was designed and constructed with multiple LEDs. The arm presses the shroud into the side of a bale allowing for controlled lighting and fiber presentation to the camera. This system provides more consistent images regardless of surrounding conditions and allows for improved high-speed measurement of bale color and non-lint content. Objective 3, the role of metals content variation in the dyeing of cotton samples was examined. Although for the dye method investigated, there was no correlation between metals content and dye uptake, results were found for the role of environment in determining the initial levels of metals in cotton samples. Growing location plays a significant role in the metals content, while variety does not. Growing conditions can result in differences of more than double the content of some metals, such as calcium, compared to the same variety grown in a different location. Standard processing of fibers through washing, scouring, and bleaching in preparation for dyeing eliminates most differences in metals between samples. As part of both Objectives 3 and 5 work has continued to address cotton stickiness, which is caused by excessive insect sugars primarily from silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) and cotton aphid (Aphis gosypii). Physical, chemical, and thermal test methods were examined both in independent trials and as part of an international round trial in coordination with the International Cotton Advisory Committee. Poor agreement between the methods was found, as well as a significant degree of operator influence on both performing the tests and interpreting the results. Work continues to develop blending protocols to minimize the impact of stickiness on processing. Objectives 4 and 5 focus on textile processing trials. Processing trials were conducted to investigate the relationship between quality and processing efficiency due to changes in germplasm, agronomic practices, or ginning practices. Processing trials have demonstrated the need to measure the distributions of fiber properties, not just average values. Additionally, trials have shown the potential for energy consumption during processing to be an indicator of fiber quality. An extensive series of textile processing trials began to examine the role of length uniformity on processing. These trials, in collaboration with ARS researchers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, are intended to work on the cotton industry’s “fiber of the future” initiative to aid in keeping cotton competitive with manmade fibers. Fiber testing results showed the impact on ginning and lint cleaning practices on influencing length uniformity. Objective 5, over 600 samples from the National Cotton Variety Trials (NCVT) were subjected to fiber testing, and over 250 of those samples went on to processing trials in support of ARS researchers in Stoneville, Mississippi. Fiber and yarn quality measurements were provided to the NCVT committee for dissemination to the public for use in research and planting decisions. Some samples from the NCVT are used for other parts of the project plan, including spectroscopy studies and analyses of wax and metals content. Substantial progress towards the five objectives has been made throughout the five year project. The needs of the textile industry have guided the work to ensure U.S. cotton remains the first choice in cotton. The most significant achievements included furthering our understanding of fiber maturity and fineness, validating the ability to calibrate cotton elongation testing, measurement of sticky cotton, field measurement of fiber quality, and the development of small-scale processing trials to evaluate breeder materials rapidly. Much of the work has focused on cotton fiber maturity and fineness. Maturity is variable based on growing conditions, while fineness is primarily determined by genetics. Neither is routinely measured in high-speed testing of cotton fiber and instead are represented by the indirect measurement known as micronaire. Research performed during the project to understand the development of maturity and fineness as independent values was carried out through experimental microscope cross-sections and infrared spectral measurements. These laboratory measurements allowed the two components of micronaire to be isolated and their separate roles in dye uptake and textile appearance to be discovered. Both fineness and maturity influence the appearance of finished textiles but the mechanism and magnitude differ for each property. Work was undertaken related to dyeing, textile appearance, and methods to assess the variability of color throughout a sample. Intended to examine the variation in dye uptake, the same techniques proved applicable to measuring the variability of color in a raw cotton sample. Cotton’s economic value is primarily based on its average color value, and results demonstrated that samples could have the same average value but vary widely in the distribution and gradient of color throughout. This work demonstrated the importance of a consistent sample size for the measurement of raw cotton color. This also led to the development of software designed to detect the presence of barré, or color variation, in finished textiles. This software is able to compare digital images of fabric to the standard reference images produced by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists and remove the influence of lighting and operator bias in determining the presence and level of the defect. One goal of the project was to develop new high-speed cotton fiber quality measurements. Work was performed to validate the calibration of elongation measurements on high volume instruments. This work reduced the coefficient of variation of the measurement, between instruments, from an average of 34% to 5%. Breeders have focused on breaking strength but not elongation because the high-speed measurement of elongation was not calibrated. Research conducted provided an independent evaluation of thee calibration method and materials developed at Texas Tech University. This work allows for the integration of high-speed elongation measurements in cotton breeding and testing programs. Objective 3 focused on the measurement and removal of non-lint content. Processing trials were undertaken to assess the efficacy of mill equipment in removing plastic contamination during processing. Although processing removed upwards of 95% of plastic contamination, the small amount left was reduced in size and increased several orders of magnitude in number, complicating further removal. This highlights the need to prevent contamination from entering the mill. Work was performed to address sticky cotton. Results demonstrated the limitations of current test methods in accurately identifying the presence of insect sugars and predicting processing problems. In cotton marketing, there is a delay of several days to a week between the production of a bale of ginned lint and the receipt of quality data for those bales. A robotic system was created, which can be equipped with various instrumentation to assess cotton quality at the gin. This system allows for gins to take timely corrective actions to improve quality. An achievement of the project has been the development of high-quality miniature-scale textile processing trials. Modified textile machinery was used to process 60-gram samples in a comparable manner to full-scale trials. This process allows for thousands of samples to be assessed in a year instead of a few hundred. This allows the large-scale assessment of cotton breeding and agronomic practice samples in a timely and accurate manner.

1. Instrument calibration results in high-speed elongation testing of cotton. Systems to measure cotton fiber or bundle properties often determine tensile properties. Cotton strength determinations also generate a measure of how much the fiber will stretch, i.e., elongation-to-break. This property, though, is often not calibrated, and therefore it has been ignored by both researchers and industry. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, led an international round test to study how to calibrate instruments to consistently measure elongation. Applying a linear 2-point calibration allowed instrument variability to be reduced from greater than 30% to an average of 5%. This reduction in variation between instruments allows for consistent determination of elongation. This finding is important because it allows for fiber elongation measurements to be incorporated into research and breeding programs and used to better relate how fiber properties impact yarn and fabric properties.

2. Determination of harvesting and ginning impacts on textile quality. Cotton production systems are evolving across the cotton production belt and their impact on cotton fiber quality is not well understood. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, together with ARS researchers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas, conducted a multi-year study to examine the impact of both harvesting method and ginning method on textile quality. Although cotton classification results did not depend strongly on the harvesting or ginning method, differences were present that impacted both textile processing efficiency and final product quality. This work will inform and shape the future of cotton classification and further our understanding of the role of production history on fiber performance.

3. Development of image analysis system for determination of bale quality during production. There is a delay of at least several days between the production of a bale at a cotton gin and the receipt of quality data from the classing office. This delay prohibits ginners from adjusting their process to improve bale properties during production. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, designed and constructed a robotic system to collect digital images of cotton bales as they are produced. The images are analyzed for both color grade and non-lint content in real time. The system does not require modification of the gin infrastructure and can be equipped with additional sensors to measure other fiber properties. The data allows for ginners to adjust operation of the gin to optimize bale quality.

4. Creation of a large-scale cotton quality database. The relationship between cotton fiber properties and textile properties are complex and not fully understood. To address this, a large-scale database of fiber and yarn quality has been built by ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana. The database contains data from both experimental and commercial samples totaling than 50,000 fiber samples and 5,000 yarn samples and includes measurement of standard and non-standard properties. This database was built as a data repository but is being integrated into a cloud-based database of cotton production parameters, weather, and soil data, as part of the ARS Partnerships for Data Innovation project. This expanded database allows for the examination of not only the genetics and environment and their interactions, but factors related to field management practices. This tool will be useful to researchers trying to better understand the complicated relationships involved in the many steps and operations needed to convert cotton into useful products.

Review Publications
Wanjura, J.D., Armijo, C.B., Delhom, C.D., Boman, R.K., Faulkner, W.B., Holt, G.A., Pelletier, M.G. 2019. Effects of harvesting and ginning practices on southern high plains cotton - fiber quality. Textile Research Journal. 89(23-24)4938-4958.
Delhom, C.D., Kelly, B., Martin, V. 2018. Physical properties of cotton fiber and their measurement. In: Fang, D.D., editor. Cotton Fiber: Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. p. 41-73.
Delhom, C.D., Manandhar, R. 2018. Miniature spinning: an improved cotton research tools. Journal of Cotton Science. 22(2):126-135.
Delhom, C.D., Indest, M.O., Wanjura, J.D., Armijo, C.B., Bowman, R.K., Faulkner, W.B., Holt, G.A., Pelletier, M.G. 2019. Effects of harvesting and ginning practices on Southern High Plains cotton: Textile quality. Textile Research Journal. 90(5-6):537-546.
Liu, Y., Kim, H.-J., Delhom, C.D., Thibodeaux, D. 2019. Investigation of fiber maturity measurement by cross-sectional image analysis and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy on developing and developed upland cottons. Cellulose. 26:5865-5875.
Hron, R.J., Hinchliffe, D.J., Santiago Cintron, M., Von Hoven, T.M., Madison, C.A., Reynolds, M.L., Condon, B.D. 2020. Physical and performance characteristics of nonwoven aviation wipers composed of various staple fibers including raw cotton. Journal of Industrial Textiles. 49(9):1198-1217.
Kim, H.J., Delhom, C.D., Fang, D.D., Zeng, L., Jenkins, J.N., Mccarty Jr, J.C., Jones, D.C. 2020. Application of the cottonscope for determining fiber maturity and fineness of an upland cotton MAGIC population. Crop Science. 60(5):2266–2279.
Naoumkina, M.A., Zeng, L., Fang, D.D., Wang, M., Thyssen, G.N., Florane, C.B., Li, P., Delhom, C.D. 2020. Mapping and validation of a fiber length QTL on chromosome D11 using two independent F2 populations of upland cotton. Molecular Breeding. 40:31.
Kim, H.J., Thyssen, G.N., Song, X., Delhom, C.D., Liu, Y. 2019. Functional divergence of cellulose synthase orthologs in between wild Gossypium raimondii and domesticated G. arboreum diploid cotton species. Cellulose. 26:9483-9501.
Kim, H.J., Liu, Y., Fang, D.D., Delhom, C.D. 2019. Feasibility assessment of phenotyping cotton fiber maturity using infrared spectroscopy and algorithms for genotyping analyses. Journal of Cotton Research. 2:8.