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New life for used clothing made from blended fibres

Consortium develops technology to repurpose clothing for automotive textiles

9th October 2020

Innovation in Textiles
 |  M√∂nchengladbach, Germany


“The mountains of old clothes are growing massively and are largely destroyed instead of being recycled and returned to the textile industry. Old textiles are a valuable raw material that can be easily reused,” says imat-uve, an innovative, independent development and engineering company, based in Mönchengladbach, Germany.

imat-uve is working with a German-Dutch project consortium on an industrial solution for the recycling of old clothes made from mixed fibres. The recycled yarns and woven fabrics made from them, are primarily intended for use in the automotive industry.

“1.01 million tons of textiles, old clothes and new garments that have never been worn end up in the trash in Germany alone every year (source: BSVE),” imat-uve points out. “So far, there is no possibility to process these quantities of old textiles in a high-quality way. Most of the textiles are burned or processed to low quality nonwovens. The problem is the different components of the clothing, which in most cases are not made of pure but mixed fibres.”

This is now about to change, the company declares. The engineering and development service provider is developing, together with a consortium of partner companies, a mechanical recycling process that recycles used textiles made from blended fibres for use in vehicle interiors. Previous recycling approaches usually follow chemical processes and therefore cannot be seen as wholly sustainable, imat-uve says.

Mechanical recycling process without chemicals

By optimizing the recycling process, the blended fibres can be torn very finely and processed into a particularly soft, uniform card sliver by new spinning preparation technologies, the company explains. “This forms the best basis for spinning. The resulting high-quality yarns (Nm15 and Nm28) can be further processed for different requirements, depending on the blending of polyester,” imat-uve says.

“In the trials of the project, 12 yarn qualities in different mixing ratios have been spun in the meantime. All approaches to spinning, both in the pilot plant and on industrial spinning machines, led to very good results. The raw material for the production of the yarns consists of sorted used workwear (made from 60% polyester and 40% cotton) and old clothes (made of unknown fibre blends) as well as raw polyester.”

Fabrics for highest demands

From the resulting recycling yarns, imat-uve created various fabric samples. The weaving process shows an excellent result, it says. “Even yarn made from 100% mixed fibres could be woven industrially without complications. There were no thread breaks and hardly any fibre abrasion during weaving. In tests with previous yarn and weaving versions, standard tests for the automotive industry, where high demands are placed on the durability and comfort of the textiles, have already been passed very well,” imat-uve adds.

“For example, the Martindale test was used to certify a resilience of at least 50,000 tours in terms of abrasion behaviour. The modified Martindale tests for internal and external pilling and hot-light aging also produced good results.”

The prognosis for the current fabrics suggests even more promising test results in the next test series, the company says. The project partners are eagerly awaiting further weaving trials in late summer 2020, in which yarns made of 100% blended fibres are processed not only as weft but also as warp threads. A yarn spun with open-end technology in a gauge of Nm28/2 will be used as a wearable variant in the next series of tests.

Mixed fibre recycling is also of interest for sophisticated designs. The natural mixing of materials and colours in the raw material results in attractive colorations of the yarn and fabric. Special colour compositions are also possible through targeted pre-sorting of the old clothes.

Push for Germany-Netherlands border region textiles

Besides imat-uve, the project consortium consists of the partners C2C ExpoLab, FBBasic, Stichting Texperium and Trützschler. The project is supported by the European Union within the framework of the INTERREG Germany-Netherlands program and co-financed by the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Economic Affairs (MWIDE NRW), the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK) and the provinces of Limburg and Overijssel.

The requirements of the automotive industry are regarded as the highest goals of the application, but the developed yarns are also to be made available to other sectors such as architecture, home textiles and clothing. In the sense of a circular economy with Cradle to Cradle (C2C) principles, the joint project aims to reduce the CO2 footprint of textiles and strengthen the textile industry in the Rhine-Meuse region. The process and product innovations are to be used to establish the textile industry in the border region between Germany and the Netherlands as an innovation leader in the field of mixed fibre recycling and textile recycling management.

imat-uve is an innovative, independent development and engineering company that supports its customers from the idea to the finished product along the entire process chain. This includes project management, design and development as well as the testing of materials, components and systems. In this project, imat-uve handles the project management, with the entire project planning (development and support of the design of experience / test plan) and coordination and control of the partner activities. imat has its own materials laboratory, in which the necessary development tests of the yarns and fabrics are carried out. imat’s textile designers and engineers develop fabric samples that have to be produced by a weaving mill and this is where its existing textile and automotive industry network comes into effect, the company explains.

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