A pilot line has been created in Finland to produce a new sustainable cellulose-based fibre called Ioncell which turns wood-based materials and textile waste into high quality fibres. It has been set up at Aalto University, where Ioncell – which can also make use of recycled newspaper and cardboard as raw materials and can itself be recycled – was developed in partnership with the University of Helsinki.
Professor Herbert Sixta, who led the development of Ioncell, said the pilot production line was completely different from the process previously used to produce Ioncell in small batches.
“We have improved our recycling methods to achieve an almost 100 percent recovery rate for the cellulose solvent used in the process in the laboratory, which we will also gradually achieve in the pilot plant,” he said. “At the same time, solvent recovery will be integrated into the continuous fibre process to achieve a closed-loop operation.”
The pilot line, which was funded by a grant from the Jane and Aatos Erko Foundation, has enabled the researchers to produce 10 kg of fibre a day compared to the 100 grams they were able to make in the laboratory by hand. Researchers at the university have been using the extra Ioncell produced from the pilot line to test its commercial potential.
Marja Rissanen dyed one batch with plant-based indigo produced by Natural Indigo Finland from a plant grown near the Finnish town of Nivala. After dyeing, Rissanen spun the fibre into yarn and concluded: “The tensile strength was clearly better than that of cotton and viscose.”
Meanwhile, Kasalto Gorniak, an alumnus at Aalto University, and master’s student Elina Onkinen knitted a fabric from which they designed a sports top. “Now that I’ve gotten to work with the fibre on my own, I’m hugely excited about its future. Ioncell is a great combination of softness and durability,” said Gorniak.
Aalto University is now setting up a spin-off company to commercialise the fibre which is due to start operations early next year.
“The establishment of a spin-off company is now very timely, as consumer and financier interest in sustainable textiles is currently exceptionally high,” said the university’s vice rector for innovation Janne Laine. “By establishing Ioncell, we aim to meet consumer expectations in the most efficient way possible.”