FASHION-TECH SPECIAL

Material innovation Ioncell is the world’s first to create cellulose out of only one chemical

The fibres have the highest mechanical strengths both in the dry and especially in the wet state, which is a prerequisite for longevity.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
June 22, 2022

Ioncell is the work of the Helsinki-based textile innovation company of the same name, and is a collaboration between Aalto University and University of Helsinki together with partners. The name, Ioncell, is composed of ”ionic liquid”, a liquid salt, and ”cellulose”. The cellulose is dissolved in a liquid salt and this solution is passed through nozzles with the aim of producing filaments of dissolved cellulose, which are then introduced into a non-solvent — in Ioncell’s case, pure water — to be precipitated as solid cellulose filaments.

— To achieve high strengths, the cellulose solution must be stretched to allow the cellulose molecules to align in parallel to interact as strongly as possible with neighbouring cellulose molecules. To make this possible, the cellulose solution must have balanced viscoelastic properties so that the cellulose molecules can align in parallel in the solution without breaking the liquid filament, Herbert Sixta, Professor and lead researcher, Aalto University, explains.

The process, he continues, is the only cellulose fibre production process that requires only one chemical, liquid salt, in addition to water, to produce fibres. 

— The fibres have the highest mechanical strengths both in the dry and especially in the wet state, which is a prerequisite for longevity, and the strength properties are about twice those of viscose and 80 per cent higher than cotton fibres. Another asset of our technology is its excellent suitability for the recycling of cellulosic waste, which includes not only waste textiles but also waste paper or products made from natural fibres. Furthermore, we’re investigating the recyclability of all possible waste materials. Our last successful project was with the Bank of Finland and the European Central Bank, where we were able to show that old, no longer valid euro banknotes can be converted into textile fibres. A publication on this will appear soon.

Sixta and his colleagues are currently in the process of commercialising by establishing a startup company to further develop the process in a pilot plant for continuous operation. Commissioned last year, Ioncell’s first demonstration products, including a T-shirt and a top, have been produced at the plant. The second goal of this phase, which will take around two years, is to produce kilogramme-scale fibre material to supply potential customers.

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