Aalto speeds up development of ecological textile fibres with new pilot plant
Ioncell yarns. Photo: Mikko Raskinen / Aalto University
Aalto University is accelerating the development of the Ioncell fibre manufacturing method by building pilot plant in the Aalto Bioproduct Centre in Otaniemi. The pilot equipment can be used to produce about 10 kilograms of textile fibre a day whereas so far, it has been produced manually in a laboratory with an output of 100 grams per day.
‘There is a strong interest in ecological textile fibres, and we get a lot of material requests from textile and fashion companies that we can't meet. Thanks to the pilot plant, we can provide much larger quantities of fibre to be tested and collaborate with a growing number of companies,’ says project leader Professor Janne Laine, Aalto University's Vice President for Innovation starting from 1 January 2019.
Preparations for building the pilot plant are already in full swing. If all goes as planned, operation will start during 2020. The scale of the investment is about EUR 4 million, and the process of finding business partners is already underway.
Developing new products of high added value is an important part of the bioeconomy strategy of the Finnish Government. The price received from textile fibre is 2.5 times higher compared to dissolving pulp – and the return is even higher in products manufactured from the fibre. Image: Safa Hovinen
Entire production chain under one roof
According to Laine, the aim of the pilot plant is demonstrating the functionality of Ioncell technology on a larger scale, a prerequisite for commercial production in the future.
‘At the same time, we are creating an excellent environment for researchers and students for studying the basic phenomenon of manufacturing textile fibre which is needed when developing new technology.’
‘We already have people in the Ioncell team from biomaterial experts to chemical engineers and designers, and now we are including even more Aalto staff and students from machine design to business and industrial engineering and management. This is a multidisciplinary competence project – Aalto at its best,’ says Ilkka Niemelä, President of Aalto University.
Researchers’ objective is to develop Ioncell into a completely closed loop process. That means always reusing the ionic liquid used for producing the fibre, and materials will include recycled materials as well as pulp.
‘We have the whole textile manufacturing chain at Aalto, from producing the fibres to yarn, fabrics and finished products,’ says Professor of Practice Pirjo Kääriäinen.
‘We may very well be bringing the textile industry back to Finland – in a new, environmentally friendly format,’ says Janne Laine.
In the future, the pilot plant can also be used for developing other new products that utilise biomass.
Ioncell is a method for producing regenerated cellulose fibres developed under the leadership of Aalto University Professor Herbert Sixta. The most common regenerated cellulose fibre on the market is viscose. The production of Ioncell utilises the non-toxic and safe ionic liquid developed by University of Helsinki Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen.
The preparations for the upscaling of the Ioncell process have been partly conducted in Aalto University’s subproject of the TeKiDe, a project funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council is funding the project. TeKiDe project was awarded in the European Commission's RegioStars Awards in October.
Janne Laine, Professor (Vice President for Innovation beginning from 1 January 2019)
Tel. +358 50 465 6835