Making textiles greener, safer, and cooler

Professor Ali Tehrani and his research group focus on something very familiar to us all – textiles. Lately, there has been an ever-growing amount of news about fast fashion and its harmful impact on the environment and even our health. The textile industry is estimated to be responsible for nearly 10% of global carbon emissions, and the number isn’t going down.
Textile Chemistry research group
Textile Chemistry research group

It’s more crucial than ever that we find sustainable solutions to the textile industry, and the Textile Chemistry research group from the School of Chemical Engineering is on a mission to do just that. Despite the challenges posed by the textile industry, textiles remain essential in our everyday lives. Associate Professor Ali Tehrani, along with his team, is combatting the various challenges that are linked to this cycle. 

Ali Tehrani has a background in Textile Chemistry and Fiber Science, and his research focuses primarily on textile and polymer materials. His work is driven by a simple yet difficult goal: addressing the pressing challenges of textile circularity. The textile industry is one of the largest global polluters, generating immense waste, consuming significant resources, and contributing to pollution through various processes like dyeing and finishing. To mitigate these environmental impacts, Ali is committed to promoting textile circularity and developing sustainable solutions for textile coloration and finishing. Many of his ongoing projects are centered around these aspects.  

Recycling textiles and developing creative clothing 

What makes it so difficult to recycle textiles, then? Simply, the complex nature of textile products. They often comprise of various fiber and material blends. This complexity complicates the recycling process, particularly when textiles are treated with chemicals like dyes and finishes. “While some methods exist for recycling individual textile fibers, we urgently need more efficient and scalable solutions for recycling blended textile fibers”, Ali states. “This entails the development of techniques to detect impurities, separate different fibers, remove colors and coatings, and establish efficient chemical processes for fiber-to-fiber recycling”, he further explains. Their aim is to advance sustainability in the textile industry by tackling recycling challenges. 

Collaboration is an important aspect of the research group’s work, and it has a strong link with the School of Arts. Sustainability of textiles is an important goal in both schools, which is why Ali has also collaborated with colleagues from the School of Arts on many occasions. Perhaps creativity is also a factor that links the schools: besides making the textile industry greener, Ali is also interested in exploring how to make clothes that are innovative and fun to wear. Clothes could have abilities such as resisting fire, fighting off germs, and conducting electricity. Imagine wearing clothes that can do things like monitor your health or change colors! 

Passionate students

Ali is passionate about his work as a professor. What stands out to him in his career is the impact he’s had on his students. He sees teaching as an important mission of nurturing a passion for research and instilling important values like integrity, teamwork, and accountability. One young talent in his team is PhD student Senni Heimala.   

Senni’s research focuses on textile dyes, which play a significant role in the challenges within textile industry. The industry annually consumes a considerable quantity of synthetic textile dyes, pigments, and finishing agents. Senni explains that synthetic dyes are primarily fossil-based and non-biodegradable. Interest in using bio-based colorants from renewable sources is increasing. However, the availability of these green alternatives may be limited, leading to challenges in sourcing consistent and reliable supplies for large-scale production in the textile industry. There are also some challenges using natural colorant for textile coloration. Bio-based colorants may exhibit less stability, resulting in issues such as faster fading from textiles compared to synthetic dyes. 

Senni’s research project focuses on finding biodegradable and biobased dyes that would aid in developing non-harmful textiles. To combat these problems, Senni partnered up with the National Resources Institute Finland, LUKE, to find alternatives to currently used dyes. So far, they have identified several organic raw materials, and they are screening them to find suitable candidates. At the final stages of the research project, Senni envisions finding out how much market interest there would be for this type of product. 

The global textile market is expected to grow due to population growth and evolving consumer demand. Thus, it's crucial to address the industry's high water, chemical and energy consumption. Improving textile sustainability, reducing resource usage, and tackling textile circularity challenges will play a vital role in reducing the industry's environmental footprint on a global scale. The Textile Chemistry research group works tirelessly to offer solutions. 

Textile by Aoi Yoshizawa

Textile Chemistry

Group led by Professor Ali Tehrani

Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems
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