H&M Foundation and Fotografiska create aprons made of CO2-capturing textiles for restaurant staff

During the night, the aprons are placed in the restaurant’s hydroponic farm in the basement where they are heated and release the CO2 to be captured by the salads and herbs grown there.
August 22, 2022

The H&M Foundation has a long relationship with HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) supporting their research and currently supports a 5-year program with them with close to 10 million Euro in order to find new solutions for the fashion and textile industry. Within the program, the team at HKRITA has explored a surface treatment of textiles that allows the material to capture CO2 from the air, and tie it to the fabric. 

— It can later be released in, for example, a greenhouse to be captured and used by plants through photosynthesis, says Christiane Dolva. 

As the strategy lead for H&M Foundation’s Planet Positive work, she funds and accelerates innovation and supports inpatient research, aiming to provide tools for the mentioned fashion and textile industries to become planet positive. Through the foundation’s collaboration with the Fotografiska museum in Stockholm, they identified an opportunity to get the research out of the lab and test it in a real-world scenario. 

— Now, the staff at the Fotografiska restaurant are wearing aprons made of CO2-capturing textiles, Dolva continues. During the night, the aprons are placed in their hydroponic farm in the basement where they are heated and release the CO2 to be captured by the salads and herbs grown there. The next day, the aprons can be washed and worn again, to capture more CO2. We call this technology Carbon Looper, and through the partnership, we are able to now take this solution out of the lab and into a real-world test scenario.

And how does this technology work?

— It’s an amine surface treatment of ordinary cotton fabric that gives the fabric its CO2-capturing capabilities. The CO2 is tied to the material during use. After use, when heated to around 35-40 degrees, the CO2 is released. If the CO2 is released in a controlled environment like a hydroponic farm or a greenhouse, the plants will capture it through photosynthesis, meaning that the CO2 is tied back into organic matter instead of being released into the air. The research at HKRITA shows that the material can capture approximately the same amount as 1/3 tree during a day, dependent on the size of the fabric’s surface.

The pilot runs until the aprons can no longer be used. Dolva shares that this clearly is research in process, so while the aprons are being used, they’re also collecting data about their capture and release of CO2, and providing more knowledge to the research team about, for instance, expected life span. 

— These learnings will be fed back to the HKRITA team in order to further do research on the potential for this application. The ambition is for HKRITA to drive further research in order to understand how this can be scaled and used in the future. We expect to see more pilots and tests of this in the future so that HKRITA can gain more knowledge about different user scenarios. The researchers are also investigating CO2 release in water, like in a standard washing machine. Then the CO2 could come out as a lump of calcium. If we can find a way for consumers to capture and release CO2 in a good way, and contribute to the reduction of CO2 by wearing garments, it could have a huge potential in fighting climate change.

Another one of HRKITA’s research programs is called The Open Lab.

— The idea came from the insights that the ability to see, test, pilot, and prototype new technologies can be a bottleneck for brands and suppliers who want to explore new materials, production processes, or recycling solutions. Therefore, HKRITA is establishing what we call an Open Lab. It will be a physical production-like facility in Hong Kong where a lot of the different new innovations and technologies from their research will be set up at a scale that will allow on-site prototyping and testing. As the name implies, the lab will be an open space where brands, retailers, and suppliers can meet, see, test, and explore what is possible. The ambition is to create a truly collaborative environment focused on actually applying new technology in order to enable future scaling to bring it to market. By 2023, the Open Lab will be ready with all infrastructure and technology in place, available for anyone who would like to test and explore new solutions.

And you also run another interesting project called Absorboost. What do you do there?

— It’s a project that is born out of a recycling technology developed during H&M Foundation and HKRITA’s mentioned 5-year research program, called the Recycling Revolution. The HKRITA team developed a recycling technology for separating cotton and polyester blends called the Green Machine. The output from the Green Machine is recycled polyester that can be spun into new yarn and decomposed cotton that comes in the form of a powder. The research team found that the cellulosic powder has great moist absorption properties, and one of the user cases for this is a pilot where the powder is used as an additive to the soil in cotton farms. Due to its most absorbing properties, the powder serves as a solution that captures and keeps moist at the root of the cotton plants, allowing for irrigation-free cotton farming. The first trials show promising results on both yield efficiency and fibre quality. This has the potential to replace other, petroleum-based fertilizers in cotton farming, and could possibly allow for better growth and less need for water and irrigation at the farm level. HKRITA is currently running more trials on this together with the large Indian cotton producer Shahi to learn more about the potential that lies in Absorboost.

And what else do you have coming?

— We have around 30 different research projects through the HKRITA program, ranging from new materials, recycling solutions, and production processes. One interesting project is looking at how to use sound waves to separate microplastics from wastewater at production facilities. This will be tested at a large scale during the second half of this year, and we call it the Acousweep. Another interesting project is looking at the processes prior to recycling textiles in the Green Machine. In order to recycle cotton and polyester blended post-consumer materials, the materials need to be collected, sorted, and parts such as buttons and zippers need to be removed. This is today a manual and labour-intensive project. HKRITA is researching possibilities to automate this by using hydro spectral imagery to identify trims and remove them automatically prior to textile recycling. Another interesting research project is reProLeather where we are looking into recycling leather waste into regenerated raw material that can be used to make new leather products, says Dolva. She adds:

— The foundation is driven by the ambition to share all solutions developed with our funding with the fashion and textile industry at large. Anyone looking for inspiration or wants to know more can reach out to us and we have also created what we call Planet Positive Perspectives where we, on a quarterly basis, will share the latest progress of different research solutions and innovations we support to the industry and anyone interested.