LUBBOCK, Texas — When weather conditions cause a difficult season for cotton growers, it can often result in a low grade yield.
This cotton still has some value in the market,but it makes it difficult for farmers to recoup their input cost.
Nourredine Abidi, professor and managing director at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute at Texas Tech, said they are looking to change the way low grade cotton is being used, but that requires converting the cotton into a liquid form.
He said cotton cannot be melted, so the process begins by cleaning and bleaching the low grade cotton which strips it of all components.
What is left are fibers which are placed in a solvent which convert the fibers in 5 to 10 minutes into a pure cellulose liquid form much like a gel, he said.
This gel can then be heated and pressed into plastic, he said.
“We can change the concentration and we can form different thickness or the transparency will change.” Abidi said.
He said since the plastic is made of 100 percent cellulose it is also biodegradable which takes six to eight months to degrade leaving nothing behind to impact the soil.
Cotton cellulose can also positively impact the environment with a product that resembles a Styrofoam peanut called Areogel which is made up of 98 percent air.
“One application we are interested in is to clean up water,” Abidi said. “If you have water that is contaminated, for example with bacteria you can chemically functionalize this with a chemical that is going to kill bacteria and then you have clean water.”
A demonstration utilized the Areogel in a bottle of purple dye which completely absorbed the dye leaving the water clear of any contaminate.
When it comes to the world of 3-D printing, if you can design it with software then you can produce it into shape giving cellulose solution multiple options.
Abidi said the most critical part is developing the solution with the right viscosity for the printing requirements.
He said there are endless possibilities — even the idea of harvesting sunlight and converting it to energy with what is called polymeric solar cells by utilizing layers of cotton cellulose material and a conductive material.
Once a product for cotton cellulose has been determined it will require final testing and of course a company to produce it and get it to market. Given all of its practical uses people may be using a form of cotton cellulose in the very near future.