BBNet funds awarded

POC 09: Development of enzyme-based coloration and coating for sustainable machine washable wool to support the wool industry transition to a circular system

Project lead
Jinsong Shen
Institute
De Montfort University

Wool fibres offer extensive natural benefits such as thermal insulation, breathability and biodegradability. However, wool currently only makes up 1% of global fibre production due to strong competition from cheaper synthetic fibres. With increasing demands for sustainable textile materials, closed-loop textile circularity, and a reduction of negative impacts caused by synthetic materials (microplastic) damage to the environment, enzyme-based biotechnology could provide an alternative solution to improve wool fibre performance, including felting shrink-resistance during washing process and limit the impact of wool processes on the environment by reducing water and energy consumption, and effluent discharge.

Aims

The aim of the project was to develop a sustainable one-step enzyme-based biotechnology process to achieve simultaneous anti-shrinkage and coloration of wool fibres. The project explored the extraction of wool polypeptides from low value wool and post-manufacture waste wool feedstocks through an environmentally friendly method. Research work explored the grafting of extracted wool polypeptides back on to the surface of wool fibres to achieve machine washable wool by enzymatic catalysis without the use of harmful chemicals enabling wool fibres to remain recyclable.

Outcomes

There are increasing demands for textile materials to be sustainable and recyclable for circularity, and a reduction of negative impacts to the environment. Enzyme-based biotechnology could provide an alternative solution to improve wool fibre performance and limit the impact of wool processing on the environment by reducing water and energy consumption, and effluent discharge.

This research project explored the feasibility for developing a one-step enzymatic process to achieve simultaneous anti-shrinkage and coloration of wool fibres. The enzyme bioprocess was successfully established for the extraction and application of wool polypeptides from waste wool feedstocks and post-manufacture/consumer waste wool. The extracted polypeptides were characterised and separated based on their size through centrifugation.  Extracted wool polypeptides were explored for their applications including grafting back on to the surface of wool fibres to improve shrink-resist property of wool fabrics during washing.

An innovative biotechnology was also developed to dye wool fabrics and polypeptide-grafted wool fabrics through in-situ enzyme-catalysed coloration without the use of synthetic dyestuff. Research outcomes of the project demonstrate the compatibility of enzyme-catalysed coloration with grafting of polypeptides on to wool fibres to improve shrink-resistance. Further research and improvement of the biotechnology could enable the machine washable wool to remain recyclable due to no harmful chemical additives being used in the processing and no added-on synthetic polymer, contributing to a sustainable and closed-loop circular textile economy.

Impact

This collaborative project enabled cultivating links between key stakeholder organisations: UK based research universities, global wool authorities and manufacturers of wool products to tackle challenges associated with wool production. Knowledge exchange activities have led to expansion of knowledge on enzyme-based biotechnology to achieve simultaneous anti-shrinkage and coloration of wool fibres.

 

Academic partner: Chetna Prajapati, Loughborough University

Industrial partners: British Wool; Fox Brothers & Co Ltd

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