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August 9, 2022

Textile recycling focus of new Singapore research facility

A research centre has opened up in Singapore to accelerate innovation in textile recycling and translate outcomes into practical solutions.

By Michelle Russell

Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), a global resources-based manufacturing group, have partnered on the US$6m RGE-NTU Sustainable Textile Research Centre for recycling.

The facility will research areas such as next generation eco-friendly and sustainable textiles, and refabricating textile waste into fibre. The aim is to study the chemistry of various textile materials and determine the optimal processes and techniques required to bring the industry closer to a circular textile economy.

Plans are also underway to build a textile recycling pilot plant that is low carbon, low chemical emissions, and energy efficient in Singapore. The new sustainable textile recycling solutions developed under the RGE-NTU SusTex are expected to be test bedded in this plant.

The move is in line with Singapore’s Zero Waste vision, as well as the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a national sustainability movement which seeks to rally bold and collective action to tackle climate change.

The research centre, located at NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, launched last week and comes at a time when an estimated 92m tonnes of textile waste is created globally each year, according to research by the BBC.

NTU president professor Subra Suresh says: “The goal of the RGE-NTU Sustainable Textile Research Centre is very much aligned with Singapore’s zero waste vision to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. This partnership between NTU and RGE draws on RGE’s industry experience as a global resources-based manufacturing group and leverages NTU’s intellectual assets in materials and environmental chemistry.”

RGE executive director, Perry Lim, adds: “We want to contribute where we can achieve the most impact. More countries are banning the import of waste including textile waste. However, current textile recycling technologies, which rely on a bleaching and separation process using heavy chemicals, cannot be implemented in urban settings such as Singapore. This is where RGE can help, drawing on our 20 years of experience in viscose fibre making, to provide $6m in funding to establish the research centre and fund its work; share our global R&D expertise as the world’s largest viscose producer; and to potentially scale up the viable innovations and solutions across our global operations. Backed by Singapore’s strong research ecosystem and leveraging NTU’s engineering capabilities, we aim to catalyse innovation and develop a first-of-its-kind urban-fit textile recycling solution.”

The joint research centre is part of NTU’s ambition and efforts to mitigate the impact on the environment under its NTU 2025 strategic plan, and builds on RGE’s sustainability commitment, part of which is to explore how waste can also be used as a resource to generate new materials.

The joint research centre will draw upon the expertise of NTU scientists in the School of Materials Science and Engineering and the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.

What research will the RGE-NTU Sustainable Textile Research Centre undertake?

Cleaner and more energy efficient methods of recycling: looking at greener ways of textile recycling, with a focus on cellulose-based fabrics including rayon, viscose and cotton, minimising the degradation of fabric properties, and refabricating textile waste into fibre;

Automated sorting of textile waste: using a combination of advanced spectroscopic techniques and machine learning capabilities for identifying and sorting textile waste based on fibre composition, and developing an automated system to remove accessories such as zips and buttons;

Eco-friendly dye removal: developing eco-friendly methods of removing dye from textile waste using little to zero chlorinated chemicals, and formulating greener and biodegradable dye substitutes;

New textiles: finding alternative uses for textile by-products and developing a new generation of eco-friendly and smart textiles with attributes such as moisture insensitivity, electrical conductivity, and infrared/ ultraviolet radiation reflectivity.

Leading the joint research centre in these research projects is Professor Hu Xiao from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, who is also the director of the Environmental Chemistry & Materials Centre at NTU’s Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute.

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