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From fashion waste to aerogel

Projects | October 1, 2018 | By:

A new process gives unwanted cotton clothing a second life as a material useful in medical, military, industrial and personal care applications. Photo: National University of Singapore.

Fashion waste continues to be a problem. It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, nearly 13 million tons of unwanted garments end up in landfills each year. Researchers at the National University of Singapore Faculty of Engineering have one solution: They developed a method to convert cotton-based fabric waste into highly compressible and ultra-light cotton aerogels, a material that has a variety of applications, including absorption and thermal control.

Aerogels have existed since the 1930s but have not been widely used due to high production costs; using cotton fibers harvested from textile waste has proved to be a cost-effective option. The cotton aerogels are produced quickly—they can be fabricated within eight hours, 20 times faster than current commercial processes.

Lightweight and highly porous, compressed aerogels recover up to 97 percent of their original size when placed in water. The absorption capacity makes them suitable for medical, personal care and industrial applications, including control of rapid bleeding and products such as diapers and oil spill cleanups.

Because of their low thermal conductivity, aerogels can also be used for insulation. The researchers created a thermal jacket for a military canteen that kept the water cold eight times longer than without the jacket. Other potential applications include pipeline insulation and liquefied natural gas transportation. For details, visit

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