Hemp for sustainable fashion – our work with Gaiatech
Joint Industry Project
Gaiatech was looking to improve the processing of hemp fibres. To this end, the company partnered up with iCAST to find out how green chemistry could help.
Located in the South West, Gaiatech Industries is a startup that holds land under Home Office licence to cultivate industrial hemp. The reason? The company believes that hemp holds the key to unlocking sustainable, ethical textiles and fashion.
Hemp is a circular systems crop, as all its parts have direct or indirect potential societal, environmental and industrial value. Using systematic design techniques and technology, this value can be harnessed to incubate a more circular, regenerative bio-based economy. It can help driving the UK’s transition towards low carbon priorities and impact the delivery of The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution in the fashion sector –through cottonisation of a sustainable fibre– but also beyond –by unlocking green processing for other sectors to use these fibres.
Using green chemistry to unlock hemp processing
Hemp fibres need to be processed from the farm into textile-grade fibres appropriate for use in the UK and global textiles and fashion markets, but this process contains a bottleneck that stems from labour intensive and unsustainable processing methods.
Gaiatech Industries were looking to expand their processing capabilities and have access to test materials to supply the project and, to this end, they partnered up with iCAST in a Joint Industry Project (JIP). This JIP would investigate how green chemistry could be used to remove the problematic bottleneck and improve the process.
This proof-of-concept research was delivered in two stages – first, the team conducted a literature report to identify the best approach to process hemp fibres, and then they focused on establishing and evaluating a method that would allow scaling industrial production of cottonised hemp fibres.
Over four months, the iCAST team worked on exploring a sustainable solution to quickly remove lignin –an organic polymer present in the cell walls of hemp and other plants and which makes them rigid– from hemp fibres and stalks in less than an hour, via a targeted chemical process. This technology had a two-fold benefit: significantly reducing both the use of bleaching chemicals and the time traditionally needed to treat natural fibres.
Gaiatech’s mission is to unlock a pathway to supply sustainable fibres to the global ethical fashion market, and the process jointly developed with iCAST may be key in unlocking this opportunity. This process may serve to supply cottonised fibres into the fashion industry, but it could also be optimised to serve a number of sectors, including advanced manufacturing, automotive, aerospace and defence.
What’s next for Gaiatech?
Having established a relationship with a major cotton spinning mill in the UK and with suppliers of woven and non-woven fibres for the aforementioned industries, the next phase of development for Gaiatech Industries will be to evaluate if these treated fibres are suitable for the textile industry and if the processing capabilities can be industrially scaled.