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ARS Home » Southeast Area » New Orleans, Louisiana » Southern Regional Research Center » Cotton Structure and Quality Research » Research » Research Project #439211

Research Project: Enhancing the Quality and Sustainability of Cotton Fiber and Textiles

Location: Cotton Structure and Quality Research

2021 Annual Report

The U.S. cotton industry has a number of current problems, including plastic contamination of modules, bales and finished products, increasing competition from man-made fibers, and the need to improve the sustainability of the industry. Over the next five years, we will work to develop methods to remove contaminants from fiber, improve industry sustainability through increased efficiency in the movement of bales from field to market, reduce energy consumption during processing, address concerns about micro-fiber generation, and improve the understanding of length and nep content in cotton to better compete with man-made fibers. Objective 1: Develop on-bale and seed-cotton fiber quality measurements to provide real-time feedback to ginners and warehouses on fiber quality. Sub-Objective 1A: Develop and implement methods to measure color and leaf grade on cotton bales as they are produced. Sub-Objective 1B: Develop and implement methods to utilize the fiber maturity of seed cotton to improve the fiber quality of ginned lint. Objective 2: Develop methods to detect and remove contaminants from ginned cotton fiber during commercial processing. Sub-Objective 2A: Perform fate analyses on plastic contaminants during textile processing. Sub-Objective 2B: Implement machine modifications to improve removal of plastic contaminants during processing. Sub-Objective 2C: Develop a low-cost contamination detection and removal system. Sub-Objective 2D: Use blending and processing parameter changes to improve the processing of cotton samples that have been contaminated with entomological sugars. Objective 3: Develop methods to better measure fiber length distributions and nep content. Sub-Objective 3A: Implement a capacitance measurement for producing a more accurate fibrogram from a cotton beard. Sub-Objective 3B: Develop techniques to extract nep data from a fiber bundle. Objective 4: Reduce the energy used in the post-ginning commercial processing of cotton. Sub-Objective 4A: Study fiber-seed attachment force at a practical scale and identify cultivar-attachment force relationships. Sub-Objective 4B: Identify fiber quality parameters that affect fiber frictional characteristics. Objective 5: Identify links between fiber properties, textile construction, and micro-fiber generation during the lifecycle of commercial cotton products. Sub-Objective 5A: Construct a device to monitor micro-fibers produced during dry abrasion of fabrics. Sub-Objective 5B: Understand the roles of fiber quality, yarn construction and fabric construction in micro-fiber generation during abrasion.

The U.S. cotton industry faces several problems, including contamination, competition from man-made fibers, and the need to improve sustainability. These problems will be addressed by developing methods to remove contaminants, improving the movement of bales from field to market, developing a better understanding of cotton fiber length and fiber entanglements (i.e., nep content), reducing processing energy costs, and understanding micro-fiber generation. The first objective will provide bale quality properties to ginners and warehouses by developing a robotic measurement platform to capture digital images as bales are produced. The images will be used to determine some fiber properties, and the data will allow gins to address quality issues in real-time, creating a more uniform and higher quality cotton that can better compete with man-made fibers. The data will enable warehouses to implement new strategies for the movement of bales from field to market, which will reduce the frequency of bale movements and reduce the energy used in staging bales. Contamination, a major issue impacting U.S. cotton, will be addressed by conducting processing trials that will provide information on the disposition of contaminants during textile processing. This data will be used to help design machinery modifications that aid in the removal of contaminants. Additionally, a low-cost system for the detection and removal of contamination as the fiber is cleaned will also be designed and built. Improved competition with man-made fiber will be achieved in the third objective through improved measurements of cotton properties. Improved fiber length measurement and high-speed measurement of neps, will aid mills in utilizing cotton, and the creation of new measurements will allow for the more predictable processing of cotton. Improving the sustainability of cotton is addressed in the fourth and fifth objectives. Reducing the energy used in the commercial processing of cotton can be achieved by developing practical methods for estimating the fiber-seed attachment force and fiber friction, which will be achieved by monitoring the energy used to gin cotton at a laboratory scale. Developing this knowledge will allow for seed attachment force to be considered when breeding improved cotton varieties. The fifth objective will identify links between fiber and textile properties and the amount of micro-fibers generated during the lifecycle of commercial textiles. Micro-fibers will be collected from dry fabric abrasion experiments, and methods will be developed to characterize and quantify the micro-fibers generated.

Progress Report
Progress was made by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana on all objectives of this project under National Program 306, Component 2, Non-Food Product Quality and New Uses. There has been significant progress on the objectives of this research project, despite the impact of maximized telework. The cotton bale quality measurement system being developed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana (Objective 1) has undergone additional modifications to reduce the number of moving components and simplify the electronics. The revised design will be more easily reproduced and adapted to different gin layouts. In addition, a second system has been built by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana. The systems will collect color and leaf grade information on bales from two commercial gins during the 2021-22 ginning season. The addition of a second commercial gin partner will allow data to be collected by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana from two distinct geographical area and gin facilities. As part of this objective, two approaches have been developed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to calculate leaf grade (related to the bales non-lint content) from bale optical images. The first method uses image analysis software to analyze each image for the number and size of non-lint particles, like the system used by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to classify cotton. The second method utilizes a neural network and machine learning approach, in which a set of images and AMS data are used to train the system. The two methods have been developed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana using images collected from one cotton gin during the previous ginning season. The two approaches and a color measurement approach under development by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana will be tested against images collected from the two planned 2021-2022 gins. The additional location will provide a wider distribution of results, as the initial set did not contain as wide a distribution of leaf grades as desired. During the past year, processing trials were conducted by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to address plastic contamination in ginned lint (Objective 2). Various plastics, such as commercial module wrap and common plastic contaminants (e.g., grocery store bags) have been obtained. Carding trials were carried out by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana in which plastic contaminants of known count and mass were added to clean ginned lint, and waste streams were monitored at each cleaning point in the opening line. The amount of contaminant used in the processing trials was based on data gathered from industry surveys. The waste was examined by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana for plastic contaminants by both weight and number to establish the effectiveness of current fiber cleaning system to remove the plastic pieces. Results will guide the modification of parameters to enhance the maximum amount of passive removal of plastic contaminants during cotton processing. To improve the measurement of fiber length distributions (Objective 3), fiber samples containing various length distributions and nep contents (fiber entanglements) were collected by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana. The Uster HVI instrument measures fiber length distributions by light adsorption. However, the method is unable to measure the shorter fibers of a sample accurately. As an alternative approach, measurement of capacitance is being studied by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana. For this, a few outdated High-Volume Instruments (HVIs) that have optical modules to measure length distributions have been sourced. These instruments will provide donor components that can be used to help design and test alternative measurement approaches. The modified instruments offer a testbed for standard length measurement components to be replaced with novel components equipped with customized sensors and software. ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana have performed friction measurements on a large set of cotton samples. This work was completed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to study the relationship between fiber friction and the energy consumption of fiber processing (Objective 4). A low-cost, compact energy monitor has been built by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana. The energy monitor can be mounted on various textile processing machines to record the current and power used. The energy monitor can also be used by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana on breeder-scale tabletop cotton gins to measure power differences among samples, as well as logging the power consumption of either individual motors or assemblies of textile processing equipment. A feed control mechanism for tabletop cotton gins will enable measurement of the energy needed to gin the cotton sample while minimizing operator influence. The system will also be able to evaluate the effect of feed rates and seed roll densities. A literature search has been conducted by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana on feed control approaches, but the system is not designed or constructed yet. The final design and construction of the breeder-scale gin feed control is a priority for the next year. To allow the collection of cotton micro-fiber generation by dry fabric shedding (Objective 5), an enclosure and air-wash system has been designed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to use with a Martindale abrasion tester to generate and collect micro-fibers. The chamber was designed to examine different techniques for their ability to create micro-fibers. ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana used an air-wash system that will collect and capture the micro-fibers, which can be compared with the (weight) lost from the fabric during abrasion. The material captured by the air-wash system can be examined by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana both quantitatively and qualitatively. An instrument typically used to measure the number and length characteristics of wood pulp by optical methods will be modified by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to examine the microfibers. Trials have shown that the instrument shows potential for characterizing the material collected by the micro-fiber generation test protocol. Progress in achieving some objectives of the project plan has also been made through collaborations with related ARS, university, and stakeholder projects. ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana have collaborated to reduce plastic contamination in cotton by partnering to develop ideas, concepts, and studies to address the issue at the field, gin, and textile mill level. This industry-wide approach is allowing for rapid progress in understanding how plastic contamination enters the cotton supply chain and evaluating approaches to both prevent and remove plastic contaminants. ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana have also made significant progress in developing a comprehensive approach to archive cotton research data as part of the Partnerships for Data Innovation’ effort. Data collection tools have been developed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to collect field data from variety and agronomic trials using a Survey123 application, which directly stores the data in AgCROS (Agricultural Collaborative Research Outcomes System). This eliminates the need to reenter data and allows direct data sharing among collaborators. In addition, dashboards have been developed by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana to display fiber quality, yield, and loan value information from archived variety trials, as well as the National Cotton Variety Tests. These dashboards allow viewers to develop custom filters and visually compare results across locations, varieties, and crop years in a more dynamic and informative way than the traditional static text files, while also bringing data from multiple sources together into a single interface.

1. New cotton research data collection and visualization tools. Traditionally, much of the data collected by ARS researchers at New Orleans, Louisiana, in the field is collected with pen and paper. This pen and paper approach is vulnerable to transcription errors during data reentry. A data collection system has been developed by ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana; Stoneville, Mississippi; and Lubbock, Texas, that allows for the direct recording of field data on a phone, tablet, or computer. Data is initially stored on the local collection device but is then uploaded into the Agricultural Collaborative Research Outcomes System (AgCROS) database, where it can be stored, shared with others, or analyzed. In addition to the collection tools, standardized data dashboards have been created by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana, to allow the rapid visualization of fiber quality data, yield, and loan values. The system should reduce errors, allow data sharing, and facilitate research studies and be a benefit to many groups within the cotton research community, including breeders, ginners, and fiber processors.

2. Improved handling of seed cotton modules reduces plastic contamination. ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana, believe the cotton industry has developed numerous approaches to transporting and unwrapping the plastic from cotton round modules; however, plastic contamination from the module wrap remains an industry problem. ARS researchers in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lubbock, Texas, and Stoneville, Mississippi, have completed a comprehensive review of systems that transport field cotton modules and remove plastic module wrap. Several systems were identified by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana, that lessen the potential for the plastic to contaminate the cotton processing stream. A time and motion study and safety factors were also evaluated by ARS scientists at New Orleans, Louisiana, to allow gins to select the method that best serves their operations. This information allows the U.S. cotton ginning industry to make informed decisions when upgrading or modifying module handling equipment.

Review Publications
Santiago Cintron, M., Von Hoven, T.M., Hinchliffe, D.J., Hron, R.J. 2021. Examination of cotton maturity and maturity distribution using an infrared focal plane array imaging system. American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Journal of Research. 8(1):14-24.
Edwards, J.V., Prevost, N.T., Yager, D., Nam, S., Graves, E.E., Santiago Cintron, M., Condon, B.D., Dacorta, J. 2021. Antimicrobial and hemostatic activities of cotton-based dressings designed to address prolonged field care applications. Military Medicine. 186(1):116-121.
Liu, Y., Kim, H.-J. 2020. Separation of underdeveloped from developed cotton fibers by attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. Microchemical Journal. 158:105152.
Fortier, C.A., Delhom, C.D., Dowd, M.K. 2021. Source of metal ions on raw cotton fibers and their influence on dyeing. American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Journal of Research. 8(2):1-8.
He, Z., Guo, M., Fortier, C., Cao, X., Schmidt-Rohr, K. 2021. Fourier transform infrared and solid state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopic characterization of defatted cottonseed meal-based biochars. Modern Applied Science. 15(1):108-121.
Delhom, C.D., Knowlton, J., Martin, V.B., Blake, C.D. 2020. The classification of cotton. Journal of Cotton Science. 24:189–196.
Delhom, C.D., Hequet, E.F., Kelly, B., Abidi, N., Martin, V.B. 2020. Calibration of HVI cotton elongation measurements. Journal of Cotton Research. 3(31). Available:
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.
Van Der Sluijs, M.H., Delhom, C.D., Martin, V.B. 2020. Assessment of cotton fibre length measurement methods. Journal of Textile Institute. 1-13. Available
Zeng, L., Bechere, E., Delhom, C.D. 2020. Potential of genetic improvement for neppiness traits in Upland cotton. Crop Science. 60:1876-1883.
Fang, D.D., Zeng, L., Thyssen, G.N., Delhom, C.D., Bechere, E., Jones, D.C., Li, P. 2021. Stability and transferability assessment of the cotton fiber strength QTL qFS-c7-1 on chromosome A07. The Crop Journal. 9(2):380-386.