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Creating the future of textiles: make it from milk

December 1st, 2013 / By: , / Advanced Textiles, Technical

Qmilch IP GmbH makes a silky smooth, all-natural fabric from milk that’s highly desirable for high fashion, but well suited for more industrial applications, too.

A lot of milk in the world is simply thrown away as unsuitable—for food, that is. German-based company Qmilch IP GmbH has found a use for discarded milk: fabric. In fact, it makes a silky smooth, beautiful fabric desirable for high fashion, appealing to high-end consumers who are not only interested in the ecology, but in the economic and social responsibility supporting the fashionable collections.

In addition to apparel, the fibers are particularly suitable for use in home textiles, the automobile industry and medical technology, and they offer advantages as well for thermal insulated seat covers or hygienic diaphragms. With interest in, and the use of, these textile fibers growing, supply is challenged to meet the demand.

Natural materials and ecological awareness is significant today, with “green-and-clean” more emphasized in fashion collections. Qmilch (Qmilk) is a new fiber based on the milk protein casein. Using an efficient and ecological manufacturing process, the casein fibers are produced using renewable and natural resources and no chemical ingredients during the process.

Unsuitable for food, but ideal for fabric

Making use of “side streams”—byproducts that inevitably arise in the manufacture of a product—is becoming increasingly important, especially the use of waste streams in the agricultural and food sector, which are seen as offering great potential. Qmilk uses a waste product from the dairy industry. More than two million tons of milk are discarded every year in Germany alone for not meeting the criteria as drinking milk. This raw milk is not usable in the food sector but has major potential as a valuable and renewable ingredient, which is insufficiently utilized currently.

For many people, the issue of sustainability is a criterion in their purchasing decisions. New methods based on “white biotechnology” and “zero waste” concepts are on trend. Besides, many innovative biopolymers are derived from side streams. The demand for textiles is steadily increasing, and there is quite a bit of research into new alternatives. The company understands this and believes that, above all, these new products must have a positive health aspect and be produced sustainably.

A natural, with added benefits

During the production process, water consumption is reduced to a maximum of two liters of water in a maximum of five minutes of processing time, without accumulating any additional raw materials and waste. Additionally, it is produced at just 80 degrees Celsius, which also saves energy.

The fibers can be categorized like the protein fibers in silk and wool, and combine the benefits of natural and industrial fibers. Casein, the milk protein, is based on 18 of the 22 known proteinogenic amino acids and it has an extremely high glutamine and calcium content. At about 20 percent, no other protein contains as much glutamine as casein.

Because the fiber has a smooth surface, fabrics made from it can naturally prevent skin irritations, making it attractive for garments, but it can be more versatile than that. Depending on customers’ requirements, Qmilk fiber can be modified in its optics and properties for many textile surfaces.

Additionally, its moisture management function is naturally antibacterial and promotes temperature regulation that can suppress allergens. Although Qmilk does not use any added antibacterial treatment, it has natural antibacterial effects against E. coli and even Staphyllococcus aureus, and is resistant to fuels, making it suitable for a range of products in the clothing, home textiles and technical markets.

Color and fiber mixing options

Qmilk takes up color easily; even a colorization during the process is possible. It has a soft hand, comparable to silk, is naturally lightweight, machine washable and temperature stable to 200 degrees Celsius. It also has passed the B2 standard flammability test and is resistant to UV rays.

The product can also mix well with other fibers. A 20 percent blend with other textile fibers improves a fabric’s performance and allows unique combinations in performance characteristics. Using the benefits of natural and manmade fibers, these fibers show that textile requirements can be met with resource-saving and eco-friendly production based on waste products.

New high-tech textiles are the materials of the future and will need to comply with high sustainability standards. Most prevalent is the trend toward biodegradable fiber materials from biopolymers. The demand in eco-friendly products is rising and, due to the increasing scarcity of resources, many researchers are looking to novel fiber alternatives. Qmilk fibers offer a viable alternative in the marketplace.

Qmilch IP GmbH is based in Hannover, Germany. The company will start with a production mill of 1000 tons/year in 2014. Anke Domaske is managing director.

Safety and Technical Products (S+TP), a division of IFAI, represents the interests of the textile industry in safety, protective, interactive, medical and other high-tech applications. Visit www.safetyfabrics.com

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