Project Number: 6054-41000-108-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated
Start Date: May 13, 2020
End Date: May 12, 2025
Conduct original research to promote and enhance the use of cotton fibers in the nonwovens textile industry. Cotton fibers currently comprise ~2.4% of raw materials globally consumed for nonwovens, with the market dominated by synthetic petroleum-based fibers such as polyester (PET) and polypropylene (PP). However, the annual growth rate of cotton fiber use in nonwovens will surpass PET and PP over the next several years which present opportunities to replace petro-chemical fibers. The proposed research will include cotton fiber blending, processing, and bonding approaches, genetic selection of cotton varieties with unique fiber traits suitable for both broad use and specific nonwoven applications, and chemical modifications of cotton fibers for value added applications. Our previous cotton-based nonwovens project worked synergistically with projects in the unit and external collaborators to successfully patent and transfer cotton-based nonwoven technologies to commercially available products. These interactions will continue and will build on the success and accomplishments of our previous projects which have established a solid research foundation for cotton fiber use in nonwovens. Further investigations into the relationships between cotton fiber quality measurements and nonwovens fabric performance attributes will establish industry guidelines for cotton fiber selection, blending, and processing parameters for cotton-containing nonwovens destined for different end-use applications. This research is outlined in Objective 1 which allows for intimate stakeholder interaction and cooperative research for nonwoven prototype development toward the Agency goal of technology transfer. Objectives 2 and 3 will work together to examine value added attributes imparted by inherent genetic-based attributes and chemically added properties that enhance cotton fibers of selected varieties through nanotechnology, which ultimately relies on processing research conducted under Objective 1 for prototype development and textile functionality analyses. Cotton fiber functionalities in this research include but are not limited to inherent flame retardancy (FR) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) generation, high-yield nonwoven-specific cotton varieties, greige fiber color (whiteness and stability), nonwoven fabric tensile properties, stretch, drape and hand, moisture management, and new sanitization and disinfecting applications for cotton. Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial products and market applications for cotton-containing nonwoven materials. Objective 2: Enable new commercial varieties of cotton exhibiting non-conventional fiber properties for improved functionality and value of cotton-containing textiles. Objective 3: Expand and develop novel metal-based nanotechnology to facilitate new value-added applications for cotton.
The increased use of cotton fibers in nonwovens textiles will be facilitated through innovative processing techniques, product prototype creation and testing, and close interaction with stakeholders at the fiber production, marketing, and manufacturing levels. Through fiber selection and blending combined with modification of nonwoven bonding processes, specialty and commodity cotton-based nonwoven fabrics can be produced which are suitable for new disposable or semi-durable applications. Raw materials will be procured from commercial sources and the in-house, commercial-grade production equipment and procedures, will be used to prepare fibrous batts for the downstream conversion of the fibers into nonwoven fabrics. The research products will be tested to assess their values for the targeted end-use products. The most promising research fabrics will be selected for confirmation before scaling to pilot operations. Selected fabrics will be offered to industrial partners for mutual cooperation and industrial trials. Genetically diverse cotton lines will be screened to identify nonconventional fiber properties that could benefit the textile industry. Cotton fibers with specific inherent properties such as natural increased flame resistance (FR) were observed in the fibers of a cotton multiparent advanced generation intercross (MAGIC) population and will reduce the need for external applications of chemical additives to achieve the desired functionality. Additional unique fiber properties were observed in cotton fibers including elevated levels of hydrogen peroxide that would add beneficial properties to medical textiles for wound healing and infection mitigation. Other end-use properties include, but are not limited to, increased fiber elongation, enhanced absorbency and fluid handling characteristics, and development of high yield varieties specifically for nonwoven textiles. The genetic basis of the observed nontraditional fiber properties will be determined to facilitate the release of cotton varieties with properties for value-added, mostly nonwoven textile applications. New or modified nanotechnology for cotton-based materials will be developed that increase the existing market share and create new markets. The unique chemistry and structure of various cotton varieties will be identified and utilized as a scaffold on which to build a technology enabling nanoengineered cotton products. The advantages of developing this customized nanotechnology over applying the currently available nanotechnology include comfortable and washable metal-based nanotextile products; newer functionalities; conversion of inferior or valueless cotton varieties into value-added products; decrease ecological/environmental footprints; and facilitate industry to efficiently and economically produce functional products. Based on our successful realization of cotton as a nanoengineering tool that is self-generating antibacterial silver nanoparticles, the cotton-oriented nanotechnology will be further expanded for nano-enhanced applications and the improved quality of processes and products in a sustainable manner.