Converting textile microfibres to carbon nanomaterials to prevent water pollution from laundering

A bilateral research partnership between North Carolina state University and University of Surrey developing longitudinal data for research and and program Management

Objectives and activities

Plastic microfibre shedding while washing clothes is a serious problem that affects water and soil ecosystems around the globe. The subject is gathering public attention and even resulting in petitions to fit washing machines with filters. However, while filters can capture fibres, there currently do not exist methods to properly dispose of or utilize them. This means that at present we are simply moving the problem from washers to landfills. We are proposing a novel solution to take textile microfibres out of their current lifecycle, by splitting them into solid carbon nanomaterials and clean hydrogen. We will conduct experiments to determine the nature and scale of the microfibre problem, alongside developing a catalytic technology for converting real textile microfibres to carbon nanomaterials which can be sequestered in a variety of essential products, such as in the energy and healthcare sectors.

The aim of this project is to devise a commercially viable solution to prevent the release of nonbiodegradable microfibers from washing machines to the natural environment. This project is aligned with UN Sustainable Development goals of enabling access to clean water, developing sustainable consumption and production patterns, and protecting ecosystems under water and on land. We are seeking to develop the “Industries of the Future” that make up a circular economy where nothing is wasted, making the project a good fit for the RCF grant. The following are main objectives of the project:

Objective 1: To characterise and quantify textile microfibres that can be captured from washing machines using filters

Objective 2: To demonstrate the catalytic conversion of microfibres (from laundering) to CNMs with controllable structure

Objective 3: To assess the economic feasibility and environmental impact of a textile microfibre-to-CNM process

Lead PI: Melis Duyar

“When evaluating upcycling techniques for existing plastics waste, it is essential to consider the entire life cycle of products, particularly to target products that do not result in oxidation of the carbon contained in plastics to CO2. The plastics and climate change issues are interlinked due to the use of fossil-derived carbon in plastics. Thus, it is essential to focus on waste management and valorisation technologies that do not simply shift the carbon to the gas phase, thus contributing to climate change.”

Quote by the first author of the publication by Silvia Parrilla

Check the latest review paper written during the UGPN project (with authors from NCSU and Surrey teams) has been published: