How enzymes can help address key challenges of recycling

Research to explore how enzymes can help to extend the use of clothing or textiles by addressing one of the key challenges of recycling materials is set to begin at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

Professor Jinsong Shen has won funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to develop innovative, environmentally-friendly ways to reduce the impact of textile manufacturing on the Earth’s resources.

THUMB pic textiles

It is one of 18 biotechnology projects awarded funding by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)’s £5.3m circular bioeconomy fund, to help the textile industry become more sustainable. To win funding, projects had to demonstrate genuine innovation as well as effective reuse of resources, reduced use  of fossil fuel and promote the switch to bio-based alternatives.

The new DMU project is a collaborative research project between De Montfort University and Loughborough University, supported by industrial partners Camira Fabrics, Woolmark and Fox Brothers. focuses on wool blended fabrics that contain synthetic fibres or bast fibres like flax, hemp, and nettle fibres. The goal of the project is to develop enzyme-based biotechnologies to recycle these wool blended fabrics.

Researchers will be studying how they can use naturally-occuring protein-based biocatalysts known as enzymes to separate component fibres from blended fabrics so they can be recycled more easily. Textiles made from blended fibres have traditionally been challenging to recycle because they are made up of different types of fibres mixed together.

PROF JimShen

Professor Shen said: “This research paves the way for more efficient and effective recycling of textiles. It provides a potential solution to the challenges associated with blended textiles and contributes to the development of sustainable and circular practices in the textile industry.”

The successful outcomes of this project could help the textile industry transition from a linear system (where products are used and then discarded) to a circular economy (where products are reused and recycled), which is more sustainable and helps reduce waste.

Dr Colin Miles, Head of Bioscience for Advanced Manufacturing and Clean Growth at BBSRC, said: “BBSRC welcomes the opportunity to invest in these innovative projects and give some of our brightest biotechnology researchers the chance to help create a more sustainable future for us all.

“This exciting programme of work will drive forward biotechnological research based on discoveries made by the UK bioscience community to address one of the most urgent challenges of our age; how to build a more circular, sustainable bioeconomy.

“This is essential if we are to reduce our carbon emissions and preserve vital, valuable resources, while at the same time maintaining our national prosperity and growing the economy for everyone.”

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Posted on Wednesday 31st May 2023

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