Submitted to: Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia for Technical Technology
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/1/2003
Publication Date: 6/25/2003
Citation: AKIN, D.E. FLAX FIBER. KIRK OTHMER ENCYCLOPEDIA FOR CHEMICAL TECHNOLOGY. JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC. DOI: 10.102/0471238961.0612012401110914.a01. 2003. Interpretive Summary: Information on flax fibers in the literature is scattered and needs to be brought together is a comprehensive review. This manuscript reviews the history and old and current work on flax fibers as an industrial product. The review is important as flax is considered a potential source of a new industry to help rural economies.
Technical Abstract: Flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) is a versatile plant that supplies consumers both fiber and seed. The long, strong bast fibers processed for linen are prized for comfort and a distinctive appearance in textiles, while shorter fibers are used in textile blends and for specialty paper, reinforced composites, and a variety of other lower-value applications. World production of flax fiber has declined from a few decades ago, but particular countries with a long history of flax, e.g., Russia and former Soviet Union countries, China, and Western Europe, still dominate in production and areas cultivated. To extract fibers, flax stems are first retted, which is a microbial process to loosen fibers from non-fibrous tissues. The most widely used practice is dew-retting, where proper moisture and temperature support colonization and partial degradation of flax stems by indigenous fungi. Low quality and other disadvantages of this practice have prompted research for new retting methods, particularly those using chemicals and cell-free enzymes. Methods to test fiber properties exist, but uniform standards using objective measurements are needed. Research is being undertaken to develop standards towards a uniform classification system for flax fiber. Linen is about 2-3 percent of the textile market, having been replaced some time ago by cotton as the premier natural fiber for textiles. Still, linen continues to maintain a share of the luxury textile market. Potentially, the greatest future for flax fibers could be as cottonized, short fibers for textile blends and as industrial fibers with a range in properties for non-woven materials and composites.