One startup’s chemical-free process is extracting cellulosic fibres from the waste generated by the annual potato harvest
Spotted: The fashion industry causes 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and generates 20 per cent of the world’s wastewater, heaping pressure on fashion brands to reduce the impact of their operations. Many have set ambitious targets, but a key sticking point is the lack of affordable alternative materials that can truly reach scale. Now, UK startup Fibe has developed Patacel, a fibre made from potato waste, which it believes is well-positioned to meet this challenge.
According to the company, 150 million tonnes of potato waste is currently pulverised or incinerated each year due to being inedible and unsafe to compost. This stream of discarded material could be key to solving fashion’s material problem, with the potential to meet 70 per cent of global non-synthetic clothing demand.
Fibe has developed a process that uses several biological and mechanical steps to extract fibres from waste potatoes without using harsh chemicals. These fibres behave like conventional fibres and are compatible with existing textile weaving machinery. Patacel requires 99.7 per cent less water and emits 82.4 per cent fewer pollutants than cotton and does not require additional land for raw material cultivation. The chemical-free process also significantly outperforms the footprint of many of the industry’s upcoming eco-textiles such as hemp.
Patacel exhibits many of the desirable characteristics of eco ‘bast’ fibres – those, such as hemp flax, and jute, that are derived from woody fibre obtained from the stems of plants – such as strength, durability, and dyeability. But crucially, the Patacel fibres have a very small diameter, which means they will be very soft, unlike hemp and jute. They are also antimicrobial thanks to the presence of the natural compound solanine.
Fibe is currently at the pre-revenue stage of development but has been successful at obtaining government funding, with three successful UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) applications raising more than £500,000. Fibe chief information officer, Bianka Hazel Gonda told Springwise: “To enter the market we will need to raise a further £900K to expand the team, purchase production equipment, and fund additional R&D.”
Other alternative fibre innovations spotted by Springwise include fibres made through fermentation, fibres made from captured CO2, and fibres made from agricultural waste that contain naturally coloured proteins.
Written By: Matthew Hempstead