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Microalgae used to develop materials for fabric

May 5th, 2020 / By: / Out There

The textile industry is set to put microalgae to work to develop materials for fabrics, apparel and footwear, according to a Sportstextile.com article. Companies around the world are collaborating, researching and producing materials using some of the simplest organisms. 

Finishes

Research has made algae’s contributions to the textile industry into a rapidly changing landscape, the article reports. For example, Beyond Surface Technologies and biotech startup Checkerspot teamed up for three years to develop a textile finish using oils derived from algae. The finish is intended to provide moisture management and wicking and quick-drying finishes for fabrics. 

The finish is a drop-in technology and Beyond Surface Technologies CEO Matthias Foessel stated that, compared to the company’s plant seed–based chemistry, the new finish is cost neutral. And algae are abundant. “. . . There are hundreds or even thousands of different strains of microalgae that could produce different kinds of oils,” Foessel said. 

Checkerspot’s role in the collaboration is to grow the algae. The company engineers a variety of heterotrophic microalgae, which convert carbon (sugar) into triglycerides or oil. The company’s aim is to make new materials. CEO and co-founder Charles Dimmler stated, “Our touchstone is to develop better products with regards both to sustainability and performance, not alternatives to existing ones.” 

Fibers and dyes

Algalife, a start-up based in Berlin and Israel, is designing dyes and fibers from microalgae. The company’s goal is to provide cleaner and greener products for the fashion and textile industries. The company claims the algae are grown using a closed loop system that uses saltwater, is powered by solar energy, and has no negative impact on workers or nature. 

According to the article, the company expects to produce a fiber that can release antioxidants, proteins and vitamins or include anti-inflammatory or antibacterial properties, without adding any chemicals.

“Across all industries, I see a connection between algae and wellness. Algae are very interesting microorganisms that can be customized for a specific application,” Algalife CEO and co-founder Renana Krebs said. The company has identified algae species with the best processability and properties to produce fibers that will launch Algalife’s line of second-skin clothing, including athleisure, activewear and underwear. The first products are predicted to be in stores in 2021, the article stated. 

Yarns

The Fabric Workshop (TFW) presented at the ISPO sports trade show in early 2020 its first 

fabrics that use a regenerated cellulose and algae fiber called Celp. The fiber is intended to use seaweed’s properties to boost wellness by emitting negative ions that are said to remove free radicals. According to the article, the fiber has AATCC 100 certification for antibacterial functions. Celp is intended to help heal wounds and burns. 

Brown seaweed added to the yarn yields a dark color, but TFW is experimenting with using less algae to make fabrics incorporating organic cotton for base layers and underwear. 

Celp is still in development as a partnership between TFW, which focuses on the supply of low-impact materials, and industrial partner Chaintex. 

Textile market knowledge

Checkerspot CEO Dimmler noted the prospective power of algae. “We see an asymmetry in the market. We know what can be done with algae, the diversity of monomers that can be produced, but people in the industry don’t realize this yet.” When the scientific literature on algae catches up to that of yeast and E. coli, more of the world may be more aware of the possibilities for sustainability these organisms can lend the textile industry.