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Tuesday, May 01, 2001, updated at 15:57(GMT+8)

China Develops World's First "Soybean" Garment

Chinese researchers have developed the world's first cashmere-like garment, using protein fiber extracted from soybean.

Experts say the cost-effective new fiber may be used to partially substitute cashmere and natural silk, while making better use of the soybean resources and lessening the damage to the grassland in cashmere production.

Li Guanqi, president of the Huakang bio-chemical Engineering Group, said Sunday that he made the protein fiber from soybean cake using artificial auxiliary agents and bio-chemical methods.

Leading Chinese fiber experts described it as the first fiber developed by Chinese researchers in the history of artificial fiber development.

Fashionable shirts knitted with the fiber were exhibited by Sichuan Silk Corporation during the 12-day China Export Commodities Fair, which concluded Thursday in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong province.

The shirts feel as soft as natural silk or cashmere, and had drawn attention from dozens of overseas importers, of whom about 10 signed letters of intent on promoting the garment.

Feng Xunwei, a fiber expert with the Donghua University, said that based on his test results on the fiber, the soybean protein fiber surpasses cotton and real silk fibers in moisture conduction and ventilation capacity, and almost as good as wool in keeping warm.

Li said they can produce 40 kg of protein from 100 kg and the new fiber costs only one third of the real silk, and one fifteenth of cashmere.

The technology was listed last year by the State Economic and Trade Commission in a national technology innovation program for industrial development.

Li said a pilot production line with a capacity of manufacturing 1,500 tons of soybean protein fiber has been set up.

Li Jinbao, director of the Textile Science and Technology Center of the China Textile Industry Association, said the new fiber has a bright future, but it takes time to turn it into a mature product.

"The fiber is easy to become rugate just as cotton and real silk fiber does, and it also lack flexibility, but technologically it could be got rid of," said Li.

Yao Mu, a fiber expert, said it normally takes about 20 years to develop a mature fiber product in the world.

Experts say they are doing further research into the properties of the new fiber, and plan to produce fiber from peanut, rapeseed and cottonseed.

China, a big producer of soybean, peanut, rapeseed and cotton, reap about 14 million tons of soybean each year.

China harvest 8,000 tons of cashmere each year, about 80 percent of the world's total, but environmentalists around the world are calling for restrictions on cashmere production.

They explained that goats, the source of cashmere, eat the grass leave and stem, just as sheep do, but they also dig the root for food, resulting in devastation to the grassland and even desertification.

A goat is equivalent to 20 sheep in terms of damage to grassland, according to goat keepers in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Experts say research on soybean protein began as early as late 1900s outside China but no breakthrough had been made.

Japan has developed cloth using milk protein fiber but it is too costly to get popular among consumers.

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Chinese researchers have developed the world's first cashmere-like garment, using protein fiber extracted from soybean.

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