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Research Project: Innovative Approaches for Value Added Cotton-Containing Nonwovens

Location: Cotton Fiber Bioscience and Utilization Research

2022 Annual Report

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.

Progress Report
Progress was made on all three objectives, all of which fall under National Program 306, Component 2, Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products, Non-Food. Progress on this project focuses on Problem 2A to increase or protect the market demand for (or increase the value of) existing U.S. produced non-food bio-based products derived from agricultural products and byproducts. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana developed new products, applications, and processes for expansion of domestic cotton in the areas of: (1) nonwovens for medical and hygiene applications; (2) value added selection of cotton for nonwovens based on fiber classification; (3) cotton wipes compatible with quaternary ammonium disinfectants; (4) eco-friendly nanoparticle production for cotton-based textiles; (5) nanoparticle modified cotton with a warm feel; (6) nanocoating for hydrophobic and durable flame retardant cotton fabrics; (7) metal oxide-based nanoparticles production with magnetic properties; (8) cotton-bound nanoparticles for wastewater purification; (9) and, broad spectrum permanent antimicrobial cotton-nanoparticle fabrics. In support of Objective 1, significant progress was made by ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, in producing nonwoven elastic, stretchable fabrics that incorporated cotton fibers. Nonwoven fabrics are produced directly from fibers as opposed to woven and knitted fabrics that first require fibers to be converted into yarns and threads. The composite fabrics exhibited improved strength and comfort as well as improved absorbency and stretch recovery. These fabrics could find use as components of diapers, adult incontinence, and other healthcare products. Also under Objective 1, significant progress was made in modifying cotton-based nonwoven fabrics by coating with water-based polyurethanes (PUs). PUs are polymers of repeating organic molecules and can be used to impart various functionalities to textiles including strength, abrasion resistance, elasticity, and water repellency. The basic starting materials for producing PUs can also be derived from sustainable sources such as vegetable oils. Cotton nonwoven fabrics coated with PUs exhibited improved strength and high elasticity and recovery from stretch while retaining good air permeability and were highly water repellent. Such fabrics could find use in various healthcare and hygiene applications. Also under Objective 1, significant progress was made in modifying cotton fibers with antimicrobial silver and copper oxide nanoparticles (NPs) for the potential use as a sterile breeding environment for insects. The NP cotton was blended with scoured and bleached cotton fibers in optimal ratios that produced antimicrobial cotton battings. The antimicrobial cotton battings were identified as a new application to increase insect breeding efficiency by preventing pathogenic growth in insect growth chambers and were reusable for several breeding cycles. ARS researchers in Peoria, Illinois, are exploring the use of the developed technology under the CRIS project, Environmentally-Friendly, Microbial and Plant-Based Agents for Mosquito Control – Project 5010-22410-022-000-D. In support of Objective 2, significant progress was made by ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana in determining the interrelationships between cotton fiber quality traits and the adsorption of disinfecting compounds used in disposable wipes. These disinfectants are called quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATs) and are not compatible with cotton since they adhere to the fibers which reduces the ability to effectively kills germs on surfaces. It was determined that coarse cotton fibers were more compatible with QUAT disinfectants due to lower overall surface area. Coarse cotton fibers are highly discounted in price and could represent a value-added alternative as a raw material for use in disinfectant applicators such as disposable wipes. In support of Objective 3, significant progress was made by ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana in developing a technique to allow brown cotton fiber to produce silver nanoparticles inside the fibers in water, an environmentally friendly alternative to toxic organic solvents. The resultant built-in nanoparticles in brown cotton altered the thermal property of the brown cotton textile fabric. According to thermal effusivity, which quantifies the ability of human skin to detect differences in material’s heat transfer, the silver nanoparticle-filled brown cotton exchanged less heat to the surrounding environment as compared with unmodified brown cotton and had a warmer feel. Also under Objective 3, significant progress was made in modifying brown cotton fibers by filling the interior of the fibers with silver nanoparticles that significantly changed the thermal properties of cotton. The silver nanoparticle-filled brown cotton thermally decomposed at about 20 degrees Centigrade lower temperature. In the same heat setting condition, silver nanoparticle-filled cotton textiles were effectively heated to higher temperatures than unmodified brown cotton textiles. The nanoparticle-assisted heating property of cotton shows potential in saving energy in the textile heat-treatment process. Also under Objective 3, significant progress was made in developing an environmentally friendly nanocoating system for modifying the flammability and hydrophilicity of cotton. Cotton catches fire easily and absorbs water at about 25 times its weight; however, engineering cotton products that combine durable flame retardancy and hydrophobicity is greatly challenging. A sandwich-like structured coating, in which flame retardant and hydrophobic polymers were multi-layered, was constructed on cotton textiles. As these functional polymers formed a mutually restricted network through electrostatic, hydrogen bonding, and UV curing, this coating is robust and washing durable. Also under Objective 3, significant progress was made in developing several synthetic methods to produce permanent iron oxide nanoparticles incorporated into cotton fiber with unique magnetic properties. The methods include using mild reaction conditions and common chemical precursors for both white and brown cotton varieties resulting in distinctly different iron-containing materials, including magnetite, hematite, and wüstite. This process can be implemented into woven and nonwoven textile processes for their use as antimicrobial products, electronic materials for smart textiles, and as self-fertilizing plant lining fabrics. Also under Objective 3, significant progress was made in introducing copper ions into the interior of cotton fibers as an anchor for immobilizing a copper-based metal organic framework (MOF) to cotton fibers, to be used for gas storage and purification, water purification, reactive catalysis and as supercapacitors. These materials are superior to the free structures in solution with ease of isolation and extraction.

1. Using sustainable and affordable nanotechnology to make cotton antimicrobial and flame retardant. Nanotechnology has been hailed as having the potential to improve processes, materials, and applications. However, the full realization of nanotechnology in the textile industry has been hampered by the high cost of nanoparticle production and the dearth of eco-effective and practical methods for incorporating functional nanomaterials into textiles. It is time for textile chemists and engineers to think about how to seamlessly consolidate nanotechnology into textile science. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana have found a way to produce stable nanoparticles within the cotton fiber that minimizes the cost and environmental risk. The resulting nano-enhanced properties including antimicrobial activity, thermal insulation, flame retardancy, and hydrophobicity are durable, ensuring their efficacy for the lifetime of the product. These outcomes provide a solid foundation for the establishment of safer and more economic nanotechnology as well as the development of the Circular Cotton Economy.

Review Publications
Chavez, S.E., Ding, H., Williams, B.L., Nam, S., Hou, Z., Zhang, D., Sun, L. 2021. One-step coassembled nanocoatings on paper for potential packaging applications. ES Materials & Manufacturing. 15:72-77.
Nam, S., Selling, G.W., Hillyer, M.B., Condon, B.D., Rahman, S., Chang, S. 2021. Brown cotton fibers self-produce ag nanoparticles for regenerating their antimicrobial surfaces. American Chemical Society Applied Nano Materials. 4(12):13112-13122.
He, Z., Cheng, H.N., Nam, S. 2021. Comparison of the wood bonding performance of water- and alkali-soluble cottonseed protein fractions. Journal of Adhesion Science and Technology. 35(14):1500-1517.
Zhang, D., Williams, B.L., Liu, J., Hou, Z., Smith, A.T., Nam, S., Nasir, Z., Patel, H., Partyka, A., Becher, E.M., Lofink, B.J., Santos, V.H., Peng, X., Sun, L. 2021. An environmentally-friendly sandwich-like structured nanocoating system for wash durable, flame retardant, and hydrophobic cotton fabrics. Cellulose. 28:10277-10289.
Rahamn, S., Alom, J., Nitai, A.S., Hasan, S., Ahmed, M.B., Nam, S., Mondal, I.H. 2022. Ultraviolet-blocking protective textiles. Book Chapter.
Sikdar, P., Islam, S., Dhar, A., Bhat, G., Hinchliffe, D., Condon, B. 2022. Barrier and mechanical properties of water based polyurethane-coated hydroentangled cotton nonwovens. Journal of Coatings Technology and Research.
Hillyer, M.B., Jordan, J.H., Nam, S., Easson, M.W., Condon, B.D. 2022. Silver nanoparticle-intercalated cotton fiber for catalytic degradation of aqueous organic dyes for water pollution mitigation. Nanomaterials. 12(10):1621.
He, Z., Nam, S., Zhang, H., Olanya, O.M. 2022. Chemical composition and thermogravimetric behaviors of glanded and glandless cottonseed kernels. Molecules. 27(1):316.
Nam, S., Baek, I., Hillyer, M.B., He, Z., Barnaby, J.Y., Condon, B.D., Kim, M.S. 2022. Thermosensitive textiles by silver nanoparticle-filled brown cotton fibers. Nanoscale Advances. 4:3725-3736.