The RGE-NTU SusTex project aims to accelerate innovation in textile recycling and translate research outcomes into practical solutions that can be deployed in urban settings like Singapore.
Researchers in the S$6m joint research centre will look into areas such as next-generation eco-friendly and sustainable textiles and refabricating textile waste into fibre. The aim is to study the chemistry of various textile materials and determine the optimal processes and techniques required to start a circular textile economy.
NTU president Professor Subra Suresh said that the centre’s goal is aligned with Singapore’s zero waste vision to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation.
“This partnership between NTU and RGE draws on RGE’s industry experience as a global resources-based manufacturing group and leverages NTU’s intellectual assets in materials and environmental chemistry,” Suresh said.
RGE executive director Perry Lim said: “We want to contribute where we can achieve the most impact. More countries are banning the import of waste including textile waste. However, current textile recycling technologies, which rely on a bleaching and separation process using heavy chemicals, cannot be implemented in urban settings such as Singapore.
“This is where RGE can help, drawing on our 20 years of experience in viscose fibre making, to provide S$6 million in funding to establish the research centre and fund its work; share our global R&D expertise as the world’s largest viscose producer; and to potentially scale up the viable innovations and solutions across our global operations.”
The joint research centre will draw on the expertise of NTU scientists in the School of Materials Science and Engineering and the School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering.
It will explore four research areas:
- Cleaner and more energy efficient recycling methods, with a focus on cellulose-based fabrics including rayon, viscose and cotton, minimising degradation of fabric properties and refabricating textile waste into fibre
- Automated textile waste sorting, using a combination of advanced spectroscopic techniques and machine learning capabilities and developing an automated system to remove accessories such as zips and buttons
- Eco-friendly dye removal through methods that use little to no chlorinated chemicals and formulating greener, biodegradable dye substitutes
- Finding alternative uses for textile by-products and developing a new generation of eco-friendly and smart textiles with attributes such as moisture insensitivity, electrical conductivity and infrared/ultraviolet radiation reflectivity
Leading the research is Professor Hu Xiao from the NTU School of Materials Science and Engineering, who is also the director of the Environmental Chemistry & Materials Centre at NTU’s Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute.
In conjunction with the establishment of the RGE-NTU SusTex, RGE plans to build a textile recycling pilot plant that is low carbon, low chemical emissions and energy efficient in Singapore. The solutions developed under the RGE-NTU SusTex are expected to be test bedded in this pilot plant.