Algae menace set to become green savior of China's fabric industry

11:35, August 07, 2010      

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Those algal blooms that have blotted waterscapes around China and almost sabotaged the 2008 Olympics may soon have a useful purpose -- fibers for high-tech fabrics.

A Chinese company is aiming to mass produce the fabrics that could be used in protective clothing worn by firefighters and medical personnel as early as next year, a company spokesperson said Friday.

A factory has been built in Qingdao, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province, with a designed annual production capacity of 1,000 tonnes of fiber made from alginate, a chemical salt extracted from algae.

The plant and technologies were jointly funded by Qingdao University and Qingdao Xiyingmen Group, one of China's leading textile companies, with a total investment of 50 million yuan (73,529 U.S. dollars).

The plant will process algae, extract alginate fiber and produce fabrics, a spokesperson of the Xiyingmen Group said.

The environment-friendly fiber was developed from various species of algae at a national laboratory for new materials and textiles at Qingdao University.

"It's a significant advance that enables our fibers to be made into clothing," Xia Yanzhi, a senior researcher with the lab, told Xinhua Friday.

The fragility of traditional alginate fibers meant they were only suitable for manufacturing medical textiles, such as bandages, said Xia.

In 2007, Xia and his team successfully extracted alginate from kelp. Fiber from the new alginate proved particularly strong, enabling the production of fabric more durable than cotton, said Xia.

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