Converting Polyethylene into Sustainable, Water-Wicking Fabrics | AIChE

Converting Polyethylene into Sustainable, Water-Wicking Fabrics


Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are recycling polyethylene (PE), a largely unsustainable product, into the fabric of the future.

PE, a thin, film-like plastic commonly used in plastic bags, has long been considered impractical for wearable textiles because it cannot be dyed using traditional dyeing processes such as dip-dyeing. In addition, PE is hydrophobic and naturally traps perspiration between the skin and fabric, making wearers uncomfortable and sticky.

Perhaps most importantly, some groups have expressed reservations about the overall use of synthetics in fabrics, citing health concerns and sustainability issues should PE fabrics enter the environment. At MIT, researchers are working to create a clean, green PE fabric that takes advantage of the plastic’s resistance to dyes and stains.

The team used standard melt-extrusion equipment to make fibers from recycled PE and virgin PE derived from fossil fuels, as well as PE sourced from biofeedstocks. First, the polymer was heated and the molten PE was pushed through tiny holes in an extruder, forming continuous-filament fibers and yarns, which were drawn and collected on a bobbin...


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