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TECHNOLOGY
Circularity 3 Ways
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Rubi Labs technology holds potential to create planet-positive products, including textiles, from CO2.
A recent New York Times article titled, “Climate Report Card Says Countries Are Trying, but Urgently Need Improvement,” noted that while the rate of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGe) has slowed, it needs to drop some 60 percent by 2035 to keep global warming at safer levels.

As we acknowledge the textile industry’s significant contribution to the problem, it’s clear that no one approach to reducing our industry’s raw material inputs, tons of waste, and GHGe will suffice. Happily, there’s an expanding menu of textile technologies working towards circular solutions to the climate challenge.

Organic WordStrment for Plastic

Squitex is a protein-based, bio-derived, tunable fiber inspired by squid ring teeth, which exhibit highly durable, flexible and self-healing functionalities. Dr. Melik Demirel, the Huck Chair in Biomimetic Materials, director of the Center for Research on Advanced Fiber Technologies, and professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State University, led team research into the development of fibers with these characteristics as a biodegradable replacement for petroleum-based fibers.“Five years ago, we decided that microfiber pollution was a big problem,” says Demirel. In 2017, Demirel, Dr. Gozde Senel Ayaz, and Dr. Benjamin Allen co-founded Tandem Repeat Technologies, Inc., with a portfolio of patents for creating fibers that replicated the properties of Squid Ring Teeth. It turns out that the structural protein found in squid ring teeth is similar to the protein found in silk. By analyzing its genetic makeup, the team was able to use bacteria to grow a bio-synthetic version on a large scale, and to alter its various characteristics to create fibers with strength, stretch, and self-healing qualities.“We are going back to nature to produce a biodegradable textile, using nature’s universal building blocks: lipids, protein, and sugar,” Demirel explains.The bio-synthetic squid ring teeth proteins are extracted from the bacterial solution as a powder, which is dissolved in a solvent and wet spun in a process similar to lyocell. Squitex’ manufacturing process exhibits fewer environmental impacts and a smaller carbon footprint, compared with fibers made from fossil fuels. “Bacterial fermentation is a low-temperature process,” Demirel points out.Winner of the 2021 Microfiber Innovation Challenge, Squitex can be used to create self-healing textiles, or to coat other fibers to limit microfiber shedding. Squitex fiber blends well with natural or cellulosic fibers, and provides elasticity for activewear or denim without polyurethane’s biodegradability issues. The company is currently on the path to creating a capsule apparel collection, using a woven blend of Squitex and cotton; with a denim launch to come in 2024, and active wear in 2025.

“Our partners are lined up,” Demirel reveals. “But our challenge is the cost of Squitex vs. plastic.” His hope is to reach cost parity with lyocell.

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