Researchers are working towards an enzyme technology that could help solve the ever-growing problem of waste polyester clothing.
- The University of Portsmouth's Centre for Enzyme Innovation has already developed an enzyme technology to reduce single use plastics, including PET, to their chemical building blocks. Now they are working on creating a similar process for polyester textiles.
The Challenge: The process of recycling synthetic fabrics using enzymes will not be an easy one. It is estimated that these textiles account for 60 per cent of clothes that are worn, and are often chosen for durability.
- The addition of dyes and other chemical treatments make it even harder for these tough oil-based materials to be ‘digested’ in a natural process.
- Developing enzymes that can efficiently ‘eat’ polyester clothing, without energy intensive pre-treatment, is the biggest challenge.
The Solution: The Centre for Enzyme Innovation will develop enzymes that can deconstruct the PET in waste textiles, tolerating the challenges that this feedstock poses, namely its toughness and the presence of dyes and additives.
- Researchers will test the compatibility of the engineered enzymes with additives, dyes and solvents to select those enzymes that are best suited to polyester textile deconstruction.
- Then, these enzymes will be applied to appropriately pretreated waste polyester textiles in laboratory-scale bioreactors to evaluate the potential and limitations of scaling up the technology.”
- The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will start at the end of January 2023 and last for 18 months.
- The University team will work with project partners Biomimicry Institute, who will provide expertise in natural solutions to sustainability challenges, and Endura Sports Clothing, who will share their knowledge of fabric dyes and provide samples of end-of-life polyester textiles.
What They Said:
Our research will establish the feasibility of using enzymes to deconstruct the PET in waste textiles into a soup of simple building blocks for conversion back into new polyesters, thus reducing the need to produce virgin PET from fossil-fuel based chemicals. This will enable a circular polyester textiles economy and ultimately reduce our dependence on taking oil and gas out of the ground.
— Professor Andy Pickford
Director of the Centre for Enzyme Innovation
University of Portsmouth