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Cotton processing waste as an antimicrobial material source

Swatches | July 1, 2024 | By:

Leftovers from ginning cotton were used to synthesize and generate silver nanoparticles without costly chemical agents and could offer a more sustainable method to create nanocomposite materials for use in antimicrobial textiles and other products. Image: USDA Agriculture Research Service/Sunghyun Nam

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Research Service (ARS) have found treasure in cotton gin trash, the leftovers after separating the fibers from the cotton seed boll. The scientists have used this cotton gin waste in a new method to synthesize and generate silver nanoparticles without the need for additional costly chemical agents that pose environmental concerns.

“Our research paves the way for new material applications of cotton gin waste that can protect against microbial contamination,” says research engineer Sunghyun Nam.

About 500 tons of silver nanoparticles are produced each year, the ARS says, for textiles and other consumer goods such as paints, pigments, electronics, optics and packaging. Use of cotton gin waste offers a cheaper, more sustainable method to create nanocomposite materials to give products antimicrobial properties.

Upcycling crop residue is a perennial goal for the cotton ginning industry. Depending on the harvesting and ginning methods and crop variety, waste material can be “16%–65% of the total weight per bale of cotton,” the study notes. This waste is being investigated as sources for production of materials such as films, particleboard, packaging materials and more.

The research was published in ACS Omega last August, and a provisional patent application was filed this spring.

In July 2023, Specialty Fabrics Review reported on this team’s work on reusable antimicrobial wipes that had silver nanoparticles embedded in the fibers.

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