Green Uses for Substandard Cotton

by | Aug 9, 2013

CottonResearchers in Texas are looking into ways to turn substandard cotton resulting from a lack of available water into eco-friendly products, The Guardian reports.

Water resources from the Ogallala Aquifer — the sole source of water in the central western part of the US — are becoming increasingly scarce. As a result many cotton growers in the Lone Star State are expected to move to “dry land farming” where the crop is grown without a supply of supplementary water.

Without supplementary water, yields typically diminish and at least 10 percent of the harvest results in immature cotton, the newspaper reports. Clothing manufacturers can’t use this substandard cotton as it doesn’t spin into threads.

Enter Seshadri Ramkumar, associate professor at Texas Tech University, has been looking for new commercial uses for the immature cotton. Using a nonwoven natural process Ramkumar and his team at the Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory have used some of the cotton’s attributes — previously seen as weaknesses — to create a number of eco-friendly products, The Guardian says.

Nonwoven fabrics are porous compared to their woven cousins. The porous structure makes them all but useless in clothing and other traditional cotton applications but helps them absorb toxic vapors and gases, according to Ramkumar. On top of absorbing such toxins better than woven fabrics, for single-use items they are considerably cheaper to make, he says.

One product the team at Nonwovens and Advanced Materials Laboratory has developed is a low cost oil-spill product that is both sustainable and biodegradable. Ramkumar research shows that each pound of immature cotton has the ability to sop up and hold 30 to 33 pounds of crude oil, the paper reports.

Another innovation under development at the lab is a carbon-encased cotton wrap that can absorb natural gas from leaky pipelines. The carbon is basically just charcoal that absorbs the natural gas vapors.

In July, Bayer CropScience launched a sustainable cotton program, e3, that the company says provides stringent guidelines for US farmers who grow its Certified FiberMax or Stoneville cotton.

Bayer’s Certified FiberMax and Stoneville programs allow buyers to identify where their cotton was grown using a Bayer-maintained certification database. The company says e3 encourages reduced use of water, land and energy while maintaining productivity.

Photo Credit: David Stanley via Flickr

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