TEXFLAX was a three and half year project funded by EPSRC and Defra under the ‘LINK Competitive Industrial Materials from Non-Food Crops Programme’. The project commenced in January 2002 and ended in December 2005.

The work investigated alternative methods of reliably producing good quality, short fibre flax with high value textile end uses in mind. In this investigation, quality relates to the usefulness of the fibre for processing on the cotton-spinning systems; good quality fibre has high value in the market place; and the economics of the supply chain are attractive at all stages of fibre production and processing.

Fine flax and flax/blend yarns can be used in the high volume manufacture of expensive fabrics, currently dominated by 100% cotton and cotton/polyester blends. The aims of the TEXFLAX project were:

  • To investigate alternative flax growing, harvesting and processing methods for the economic production of high quality, short-fibre flax for high-value textile end uses
  • To develop improved machinery for the cleaning, sub-dividing and stretch-breaking of short flax fibres
  • To evaluate outcomes against current textile fibre quality and processing standards.

Project outcomes

The project demonstrated that the variety of flax grown has a definite effect upon the diameter (fineness) of the ultimate fibres in flax. The commercial evaluation of the finest fibre shows potential for entering into the new domestic and medical textiles markets.

Desiccation of flax at the mid point flowering stage, using glyphosate-based herbicides, followed by retting the flax as a standing crop, can reliably produce straw which will yield fibre suitable for a range of high value end uses.  The mechanical extraction of short fibre from flax straw, fibre cleaning to remove non-fibre plant debris, and fibre separation, have been improved so that productivity is maintained with minimal effect on fibre length and strength.  

Potential benefits to the textile sector

  • The investigation concluded that there are strong indications that good quality flax can be grown profitably in the UK without farming subsidy. In particular:
  • The flax processor will have the opportunity to expand their operations into high volume production of fine fibre flax for new markets.
  • Cotton spinners will have a sustainable supply of alternative raw material for use in a wider product market.
  • Yarn users will have alternative raw materials from which to select for the industrial and domestic textile markets.
  • Machinery manufacturers can expand their product range to meet processor requirements.
  • Seed suppliers will have the opportunity to expand their flax seed range and sales to meet agricultural requirements.

The TEXFLAX project consortium

The consortium was representative of the complete supply chain and included UK flax growers, a UK flax processing company and an Italian spinning company. Optimum flax varieties have been identified by workers at De Montfort University for the quality of fibre they produce, and these are being grown in small plot trials in areas of Leicestershire and Cornwall. Fibre extraction is achieved following desiccation and retting the straw as a standing crop. Current decortication machinery available in the UK had been evaluated and optimised for the cleaning and separation of fibre of the desired quality. The evaluation of the fibre in terms of its suitability for use in yarn production on cotton spinning systems was carried out by our spinning company partner in Italy.

The Texflax project consortium comprised of eight partners representing academic and industrial organisations:

Investigators from the TEAM Research Group DMU

  • Professor Raymond Harwood
  • Dr Jane Harwood
  • Mr Dennis Waldron
  • Mr Paul McCormick

Further information

A wealth of information relating to the non-food use of crops is available on various websites. Some of interest are listed below:
  • For more information on the LINK programme visit the "Competitive Industrial materials from Non-Food Crops" website and the BBSRC website carries newsletters for the programme.
  • The UK Government Non-Food Use of Crops Research Database provides useful information relating both to completed and on-going research into the production and exploitation of renewable non-food materials and bio-energy from arable crops.
  • The website of the Government Industry Forum on non-food uses of crops aims to provide strategic advice to Government and industry on the development of non-food uses of crops.
  • The recently formed National Non Food Crops Centre aims to drive forward innovation within the competitive non-food uses of crops.
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