A process revolutionising cotton recycling wins the H&M Global Change Award


The Ioncell-F™ process adapted for the conversion of waste-cotton into new textile was awarded as one of five winners among 2,700 proposals.

The award of 300 000 euros was presented by HRH Crown Princess Victoria. From left Pirjo Kääriäinen, HRH Crown Princess Victoria, Professor Ali Harlin, Professor Herbert Sixta and Postdoctoral researcher Michael Hummel. The Ioncell-F™ is an excellent example of Aalto's multidisciplinarity: researhers from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture and School of Chemical Technology have worked together in its development. Photo by H&M Conscious Foundation.

The process is a joint development of Aalto University and the University of Helsinki supported by VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, who developed an appropriate pre-treatment process for the use of post-consumer cotton.

The Global Change Award was initiated by H&M Conscious Foundation in 2015 in order to catalyse sustainable and innovative ideas for the protection and re-use of the earth’s natural resources.

A total of 2,700 proposals from 112 countries were submitted to the competition, of which the jury nominated 5 winners. The public was invited to vote to distribute the grant of 1 000 000 euros. The top prize went to the Ioncell-F™ research team, which includes Professor Herbert Sixta and his team from Aalto University School of Chemical Technology Michael Hummel, Anne Michud, Shirin Asaadi; Pirjo Kääriäinen and Marjaana Tanttu from Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture; Professors Ilkka Kilpeläinen and Alistair King and PhD student Arno Parviainen from the University of Helsinki and Professor Ali Harlin from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd.  

At a grand award ceremony in Stockholm 10 February the Ioncell-F™ research team was awarded the first prize of 300 000 euros. The money is dedicated to the continuation of the research on the Ioncell-F process. The five finalists get also access to a unique one-year innovation accelerator provided by the H&M Conscious Foundation, Accenture and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

From landfill material to a raw material for fashion

Population growth and an improved standard of living have accelerated the demand for textile fibres, but an increase of cotton production is difficult to achieve on account of the large land area required for farming and the amount of water required for irrigation.

The Ioncell-F™ process, developed by Aalto University School of Chemical Technology is a green, non-toxic and environmentally friendly technology for dissolving waste-cotton utilising an ionic liquid, a liquid salt, developed at the University of Helsinki. In a next step, the waste-cotton solution is extruded through spinnerets and finally regenerated to cellulose fibres in water.


New textile fibers produced from recycled cotton garments with Ioncell -process. Design project by students Eugenia Smirnova (Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture) and Zhen Zeng (Aalto University School of Chemical Technology). Photo by Eeva Suorlahti / Aalto University.

The fibres produced by the Ioncell-F™ process are equivalent in characteristics to virgin cotton fibres of highest quality. They can be utilized not only in textiles, but also in light structured composite materials for the applications in the automatic and aircraft industry owing to their high tensile strength.

The other four winner proposals included utilizing algae to make renewable textiles, a marketplace for industrial upcycling of spill in production, using microbes to recycle waste polyester textile and creating new textile out of citrus juice production by-products.

Further information:

Professor Herbert Sixta
Aalto University School of Chemical Technology
tel. +35850 3841764

Professori Ilkka Kilpeläinen
University of Helsinki
tel. +358 50 5181148

Professor Ali Harlin
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
tel. +358 40 5332 179


Read also:

Luxury fibre from recycled cardboard (chem.aalto.fi)