The cellulose powder generated from the Green Machine is said to be clean and toxic-free

The cellulose powder generated from the Green Machine is said to be clean and toxic-free

The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile and Apparel (HKRITA) has entered into a five-year collaboration plan with the H&M Foundation to drive the sustainable development of the fashion and textile industry through research into technology enhancements.

The 'Planet First' collaboration plan builds on a partnership already established over the past four years and will see non-profit H&M Foundation increase its financial commitment to US$12m. At the same time, HKRITA will conduct research on current technology enhancements and new technology breakthroughs, while working together with the H&M Foundation to commercialise these.

The research projects will continue to gain substantial support from the Innovation and Technology Fund of the HKSAR Government.

Technologies are already being tested, including a new comparative environmental impact assessment on the hydrothermal separation treatment (The Green Machine), one of the successful technologies developed over the first partnership in 2018, is being conducted to quantify the environmental impacts relating to all key stakeholders along the whole supply chain, and ultimately help promote the adoption of this technology.

The Green Machine has been operating at around 150 kilos per day and in about a month, the second scaled-up industrial system will be operational and that will be about 1.5 tonnes of daily output.

The cellulose powder generated from the Green Machine is said to be clean and toxic-free. The research team, together with Japanese fibre producer Daiwabo Rayon, are piloting to make new garments out of it. Moreover, the cellulose powder generated from the Green Machine, with its superabsorbent characteristics, could be interesting for farming purposes. Together with Indian apparel manufacturer Shahi, a small pilot with cotton farmers has been successfully implemented.

"We don't know what a planet positive fashion industry will look like, no one does," says Erik Bang, innovation lead of H&M Foundation. "This goal is directional and requires innovation and thinking outside the box in every step of the fashion value chain."

Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA, says the goal of the partnership is to find technologies and solutions that can be shared with the industry to ensure rapid scaling and a positive impact. "To our knowledge, this is the most ambitious programme of its type, designed to move the needle in this industry"

Latest technology breakthroughs achieved in the first partnership include the first retail model of the Garment to Garment Recycling System (G2G) in H&M Stockholm and the commercial application of the hydrothermal separation treatment technology in Monki's latest collection.

Some of the latest sustainable technology breakthroughs under 'Planet First' include:

• Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Capturing Cellulose Textiles: To develop an amine containing cellulosic yarn for absorbing and capturing CO2 from the air and a corresponding effective CO2 desorption system.
• Bio-removal of Denim Indigo by Macroalgae: To develop a bio-based alternative to remove denim indigo in wastewater with photosynthesis and other biological reactions of macroalgae.

The partnership has also been developing new types of materials and solutions, one of which is a T-shirt made from a material that absorbs carbon dioxide in use. This is scheduled to hit the market in 2021.

"We see this as a way to not only get our industry to be carbon neutral but to move towards carbon negative," explains Keh, who says future work will include research around biological solutions to recycling, the separation of material, and the creation of new materials.

"Speed, impact, and scale will continue to be the hallmark of everything we do in the next five years." Other work will include research into regenerative farming, water treatment, production processes, amongst trying to address other pain points across the value chain.

Going forward, HKRITA and H&M Foundation have commissioned consulting firm, PIE Strategy to conduct a three-month comparative environmental impact assessment of hydrothermal separation treatment (The Green Machine). The full report will provide a comprehensive picture of the environmental benefits of the technology used throughout the entire lifecycle of a garment in the first quarter of 2021.

A first-of-its-kind factory is also set to open in Hong Kong, where innovators, researchers, suppliers, and brands can meet, test new ideas and scale faster. By doing this, the programme partners say they are offering a solution to one of the pain points for innovators today – access to equipment and the industry. More information is expected to follow in 2021.

All technologies and solutions developed by HKRITA under the collaboration are open to stakeholders for applications and commercialisation in all markets across the globe.