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item Akin, Danny
item Foulk, Jonn
item Morrison Iii, Wiley

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/15/2004
Publication Date: 9/15/2004
Citation: Akin, D.E., Foulk, J.A., Dodd, R.B., Morrison III, W.H. 2004. Flax fiber in the usa: production, processing, and evaluation [abstract]. Industrial Crops and Uses to Diversify Agriculture.

Interpretive Summary: Flax fiber could supply a growing need for bio-based fibers for a variety of industrial uses in textiles, nonwoven fabrics, composites, and geotextiles. Problems to develop a domestic flax fiber industry include: lack of a good retting procedure that provides high and consistent quality fiber, subsequent cleaning methods to separate fiber and non-fiber components, and means to evaluate the fiber quality and potential applications. A review of research by ARS and university scientists that address each of the problem areas is presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Industrial Crops. The presentation of this research is important to provide potential users of flax the status of efforts to support a domestic fiber flax industry.

Technical Abstract: Bio-based fibers are now sought for a variety of commercial applications, and bast fibers are of particular value in this regard. Bast fibers must be separated from non-fiber fractions of the stem (i.e., retted) and then mechanically cleaned of contaminants. A system of judging fiber properties is needed to determine the fiber quality and the most appropriate application. The objective of this work is to develop and evaluate methods that support a flax fiber industry in the USA. We report recent research on the production of flax for fiber, new retting procedures, the establishment of a flax fiber processing pilot plant, and the work on the development of objective standards through ASTM International. Flax was produced as a winter crop in the coastal plain of South Carolina and as a traditional summer linseed crop from North Dakota. Flax was dew-retted or retted by a newly developed enzyme-retting system, with various formulations tested and ranked based on cost and fiber yield and quality. Enzyme-retted and dew-retted flax were then mechanically cleaned in a pilot plant, which was recently established in Clemson, SC. This system is based on commercial equipment designed to extract total, non-aligned and non-uniform fiber from stems. Fiber quality was judged based on methods that are currently being documented as test methods in ASTM International through the Flax and Linen Subcommittee D 13.17. Flax fiber of good yield and quality was produced in the southeast as a winter crop, with traditional farm equipment used to plant, harvest, and bale flax stems. Plants grown to full seed maturity, such as that for linseed production, also provided fibers, but properties differed from those produced in plants grown to optimize fiber yield and quality. Flax from these diverse sources was successfully cleaned through the USDA Flax Fiber Pilot Plant in Clemson, SC. Retting influenced the level of cleanliness and fine fiber yield. Furthermore, the proportion of components in the enzyme-retting formulation influenced yield and properties of the fiber. In similar sources of flax, enzyme-retted fibers were weaker than dew-retted ones, likely due to the presence of cellulases in the commercial enzyme product. In addition to enzyme-retting, modifications in field retting methods resulted in improved fiber quality for samples processed through the pilot plant. Flax fiber can be a successful new crop for the USA, thus providing a source of natural fibers for multiple uses. In the southeast, flax can be grown as a winter crop, thus supplying income as an additional crop to that from high-value summer crops. Linseed straw from the northern states, which is currently burned for the most part, could supply fibers for a variety of industrial uses. Continued research is needed to determine the optimal applications for these flax sources. Research should focus on optimizing enzyme formulations, based on cost and fiber yield and properties, and integrating the retting and cleaning stages to produce fibers with tailored properties for industrial uses.