Enzyme use in textiles? Enzymes are complex protein molecules produced by living organisms. Their function is to make chemical reactions proceed at a rapid pace so that life can continue. In nature, they are responsible for digesting food and composting trees. Humans have learned to adapt the activity of enzymes for their use in manufacturing useful materials. Common commercial applications of enzymes range from cheese-making to laundry detergents. A myriad of industries use enzymes, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, leather processing, textiles, paper-making, and biofuels.
In the past twenty years, the enzymatic process has proven to be a beneficial financial and ecological alternative to harsh chemical processes. This is because biodegradable enzymes work at ambient temperature and in water-based solutions. Although they have been adopted by many industries, opportunities continue to increase in many business sectors to replace harsh chemicals.
Enzymes are categorized according to the compounds they act upon. Some of the most common ones include:
- Proteases, which break down proteins into amino acids
- Amylases, which break down starch into simple sugars
- Cellulases, which break down cellulose into glucose
- Lipases, which split fats (lipids) into glycerol and fatty acids
- Oxidation/reduction enzymes, which move electrons
Let’s look at examples of enzymes used in the textile industry.
What are these processes for enzyme use in textiles?
De-sizing: When cotton threads are to be woven into cloth, the warp threads (longitudinal stationary) threads are coated with starch to ease weaving. Once the cloth is made, the starch must be removed for subsequent fabric treatments. Scouring is done to the cotton fabric to remove non-cellulosic components from native cotton such as wax, hemicelluloses, and mineral salts to even wettability. Stonewashing is done to “age” denim and other fabrics for consumer choice. This can be accomplished with pumice stones but neutral cellulase or laccase is easier on the fabric. Bleaching removes some of the dye on the fabric to create special effects.
The bleach must be cleaned up to prevent continued contact with, and potential damage to fabric. Biopolishing reduces fiber fuzz and piling on the fabric surface.
Advantages of enzyme applications in textile processing:
- Extremely specific nature of enzyme reaction, with practically no side effect.
- Low energy requirements, mild conditions of use, safe to handle, non-corrosive in their applications.
- Large quantities of chemicals can be replaced in textile processing with enzymes.
- Ease of biodegradability of enzymes result in reduced loads on the environment.
- Enzymes under unfavorable condition of pH or temperature, remain chemically in the same form but their physical configuration may be altered, i.e. they are “denatured” and lose their activity, for this reason steam must never be injected into a bath containing enzymes must be done in pre-diluted form.
- Enzyme compatibility with ionic surfactant is limited and must be checked before use.
- Enzymes have high sensitivity to pH, heavy metal contamination and also to temperature range.
- Enzymes applied to textiles have lower discharge of chemicals and wastewater
- Enzymes improve fabric quality because of less harsh conditions for treatment.
- Enzymes allow longer garment life/wear due to lower damage of original fabric.
- Enzymes allow a reduced chemical load, reduced water consumption, and lower energy consumption.
Large renewable energy and biochemical consulting firms certainly have experts in the more common areas like of bio and renewable fuels, biomaterials, biomass and biomass power, biomaterials, biochemicals and biotechnologies. But, they also have an expertise in a wide variety of specialty services like enzyme use in textiles (like Dr. Elizabeth Hood, our enzymatic expert who penned this post). They also have services like expert witness testimony, techno-economic analysis, due diligence, feasibility studies, budgeting, project management, technology assessment, insurance, due diligence, risk management, benchmarking, intellectual property, HAZOP, financial modeling, competitor analysis, and assistance with RIN and Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) matters. These firms should also be able to assist with other things like Aspen plus, logistics, bioreactor design, municipal solid waste remediation, syngas and bio-based product development, carbon credits, climate change analysis, environmental permitting, equipment sales, experimental validations, grant writing, IP strategy, life cycle analysis (LCA), plant operations, plant sales and auctions, risk analysis and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA).
M. Hossen Uzzal; B.Sc. in Textile Technology; Monno Fabrics Ltd. Manikgonj
Winkler, Florian; 2014; Enzymes—an eco-friendly alternative for the textile industry? StepChange blog.