We often think of cotton when it comes to textiles, but manufacturers have also long explored wood as a raw material for fabrics. In 1855, George Audemars developed "artificial silk" from nitrocellulose and organic solvents—a material we know today as rayon. Although rayon is composed primarily of wood pulp, toxic chemicals are used to convert the raw material into workable filaments.
Researchers at Finland's Aalto University have developed a new, more environmentally-friendly process for making textiles from cellulose. Their new "Ioncell" fiber is made using an ionic solvent, which has a much lower toxicity and volatility than conventional solvents. Moreover, the new fiber is reportedly stronger than viscose, one of the common forms of rayon. "The research has improved the production process and allowed us to create an environmentally friendly product with first-class properties," said researcher Michael Hummel in an Aalto University press release. "The Ioncell fiber is ecological and an excellent alternative to cotton and viscose."
Ioncell textiles could also play an important role in satisfying growing demand for natural fabrics. "The production volumes of cotton cannot keep growing due to the volumes of water and cultivation area it demands," said Hummel in the press release.
Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.