Xeros launches research to upcycle plastic microfibers
07 Feb 2023 --- Xeros Technology, a clean technology company, is funding research investigating how to upcycle the microfibers captured from laundering clothes into a useful carbon material.
Xeros defines the microfibers used as tiny “threads,” smaller than 5mm, that break off from textiles through the everyday acts of wearing and laundering garments and textiles.
The research has developed a method designed to upcycle textile micro/nanofibers shed while washing and drying clothes. This method, in turn, produces clean hydrogen and solid carbon nanomaterials that could be implemented for many different functionalities – such as an environmental packaging solution.
“I noticed there wasn’t a clear technological solution to make them harmless to the environment,” Melis S. Duyar, senior lecturer of chemical and process engineering at the University of Surrey, England and lead researcher, tells PackagingInsights.
“As a chemical and environmental engineer working to devise solutions to reach a circular economy, I was motivated to research whether we could use any of the tools at our disposal to utilize this emerging microfibre waste stream as a valuable feedstock in chemical reactions.”
Microfibers as plastic replacement
At the University of Surrey, “we are developing solutions to upcycle microplastics without releasing the fossil carbon contained within them into the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Duyar.
“Plastics are one of the problems associated with our dependency on fossil fuels, so any solution we develop to address plastics pollution must also fit within our strategy for reaching a net zero emission economy.”
The microfibers collected from the filtration process can create a carbon material that can develop alternatives to plastics. If Xeros’ research proves successful, it could reduce microfiber pollution and generate more environmentally sustainable plastic substitutes.
Similarly, last month, Samsung and Patagonia revealed their Less Microfiber Cycle and Filter for washing machines. The two companies aimed to address the challenge of microplastic shedding during the laundry process and polluting oceans and other bodies of water.
Keeping microplastics out
Xeros created a washing machine filtration device called the XFilter. The mechanism captures microfibres and keeps the material from polluting oceans and other waterways.
Every year more than half a million tons of microfibres are released into the world’s oceans simply from washing our clothing, according to The Microfibre Consortium.
Xeros states that microfibers from synthetic textiles are one of the most significant sources of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Dr. Paul Servin, application development director of Xeros, says, “there is nothing better than to convert what is today considered to be waste and a problem in the world into a highly valuable product.”
The carbon nanomaterials developed using this upcycling method can be used in various essential products, including batteries, solar cells and medical devices.
Xeros says microfiber waste from filtration is a complex material to recycle within the existing recycling infrastructure. “Not only are the microfibres often mixed materials, but they also contain captured dirt and soil.” The company believes its research will improve “methods to permanently reduce this continued pollution build-up in the future.”
XFilter lasts the lifetime of a washing machine and allows users to place the captured microfibres directly into their bin to be disposed of with other household waste, as we already do with vacuum cleaners and tumble driers that collect similarly mixed fibers.
“This partnership with Xeros will allow us to bring our technology closer to commercialization by developing methods for upcycling real microfibre waste collected from commercially available filters. We are excited to see our patent pending processes in action as applied to mixed fiber feedstocks, which is a big step toward developing a viable, real-world solution,” concludes Duyar.
By Sabine Waldeck
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