Scientists at Lund University in Sweden, have developed a method to recycle cotton into sugar, which can be turned into valuable products including: spandex, nylon and ethanol.
It is estimated that around 25 million tons of cotton are discarded around the world each year. In Sweden, most of the material is fed directly to the incinerator and becomes district heating. In another places, it’s even worse, old clothes often end up in landfills

recycle cotton

Edvin Ruth, a researcher in chemical engineering at Lund University, has found a way to recycle cotton. This method involves soaking the fabric in sulfuric acid, the result is a clear, dark, amber-colored sugar. The secret is to find the right combination of temperature and sulfuric acid concentration.
According to Ruth, glucose is a very versatile molecule with many potential uses. The researchers’ plan is to produce the chemical, which can be turned into a variety of textile products, including spandex and nylon. Another possible alternative use is ethanol production.
From an ordinary sheet of paper, they can extracted five liters of sugar solution, with each liter containing the equivalent of 33 sugar cubes. However, you cannot turn the liquid into fresh water because it also contains corrosive sulfuric acid.
Cellulose cotton has a complex structure and high adhesion. This makes it difficult to break down chemicals and reuse their components. In addition, there are many surface treatments, dyes and other contaminants that must be removed. In addition, structurally, a cotton scarf and an old pair of jeans are very different. Therefore, this process requires a lot of factors such as: the right concentration of acid, the number of treatment stages and the right temperature.

recycle cotton

Ruth explains that the concept of hydrogenation of pure cotton is nothing new; it was discovered in the 1800s. The challenge is to make this process efficient, economically viable and attractive.
“Many people have tried and failed to use as much cotton, while others have done better but at an unsustainable cost and environmental impact,” says Ruth.
When he started producing glucose from lychee a year ago, the profits were very small, 3-4%. Now, Ruth and her colleagues have reached 90%.
Once the recipe is complete, it will be relatively simple and inexpensive to use.
However, for the process to become a reality, the management and classification of different textile types
Fortunately, a recycling center is currently under construction in Malmö, where clothes are automatically sorted by sensors. Some clothes will be donated, rags