Bio-Manufacturing textiles from waste

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology


There is increasing concern about the environmental impacts of the fashion sector. The UK alone sends more than 1 million tonnes of textiles to landfill and incineration every year. In addition, the environmental footprint of textile production is poor, with cotton being one of the most water and chemically intensive crops grown. Rayon and viscose are semi-synthetic textile fibres made from the chemical regeneration of cellulose extracted from trees. We have developed methods by which we can produce cellulose from agricultural by-products and the biological fraction of municipal solid waste. We propose to use this cellulose as a replacement for that currently derived from trees. Producing these materials from waste will greatly reduce the environmental footprint of textiles.

We produce cellulose from waste in two ways. For crop residues such as wheat straw, we use enzymes to purify the cellulose that make up about 40% of this material. The rest of the polysaccharides in straw are converted into simple sugars during this process, and we will use bacterial fermentation to convert these into cellulose using Komagataeibacter xylinus. We will also use the biological fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW) to produce cellulose. For this part of the work we will use a fibre produced by the commercial autoclaving of MSW as a feedstock. This fibre contains large amounts of polysaccharides (mostly derived from waste paper and card) that we hydrolyse with enzymes to produce simple sugars that can be fed into our bacterial fermentation system to produce cellulose.

Our proposed work involves maximising the productivity of our systems for producing cellulose, trialling the production of viscose-like regenerated fibres from our cellulose, and producing and testing textiles made from these fibres. The proposed work will allow us to increase process efficiency and to generate data to allow us to carry out a techno-economic analysis to assess the commercial viability of this novel process for textile manufacturing. We will also assess the environmental impacts of making textiles in this way using a life cycle analysis. We will produce samples of our fibres and textiles to allow potential end-users to assess their quality, and develop a business plan with companies from across the supply chain from feedstock provision to fashion retailers.


10 25 50
Description We have successfully shown that we can produce high quality cellulose from wheat straw, the biological fraction of municipal solid waste and end of life cotton textiles. We are working Lenzing, a major producer of regenerated cellulosic textile fibres, both to use our cellulose in their systems and to use their process waste to make new cellulose. We have scaled up cellulose production, which is being shared with project partners to test applications. We are a partner in a successfully funded UKRI Circular Economy Centre. This is The Textile Circularity Centre, led by Professor Sharon Baurley at the Royal College of Art.
Exploitation Route We hope tpo develop a spin out company producing virgin quality low carbon cellulose for textile applications
Sectors Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail