10. Creating a New Fiber

Margaret W. Frey, Textiles and Apparel, and colleagues perfected the technique of electrospinning to spin nanofibers from cellulose, an abundant biodegradable, renewable resource. With colleague Yong Joo, Chemical Engineering, Fey developed new solvents for cellulose, which enabled the production of fiber using the technique. Electrospinning cellulose on the nanoscale entails dissolving cellulose in a solvent, squeezing the liquid polymer solution through a tiny pinhole, and applying a high voltage to the pinhole. Electrospinning produces nonwoven mats of nanofibers. Producing a low-cost, high-value, high-strength fiber from reclaimed cellulose material—for example, fiber lost to scrap whenever cotton is converted to fabric and garments—will increase motivation to recycle these materials at all phases of textile production, removing them from the waste stream. Applications for the new technique could include air filtration, protective clothing, agricultural nanotechnology, and biodegradable nanocomposites, as well as using biodegradable eletrospun cellulose mats to absorb fertilizers, pesticides, and other materials for targeted application.

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