Garbage trucks dedicated to textile waste passed every second on highways used to transport global waste to giant landfills. That is 92 million tons per year. When we talk about recycling, we usually think of plastic, glass, or organic waste.However, the textile industry 8% of greenhouse gasesUnfortunately, only 1% of the clothing produced worldwide each year is recycled. Are there any technical breakthroughs to reverse this situation?
The main challenges in achieving more efficient recycling are clothing collection and Difficulty in separating them according to different materialsLuckily, thanks to recent technological innovations, butterflies, especially wings, have shown us how to optimize it. biomimetics again biomimicryThat is, the application of principles or structures that exist in nature. According to chaos theory, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, it can cause a storm in New York. Perhaps those feathers also hold the secret to revolutionizing the way we consume and recycle clothing.
Structural color of wings
Textile separation usually requires manual inspection, often complicated by lost labels and chemical analyses. Both processes are very demanding in terms of human or financial resources.Luckily, MIT in the US has created it using the colorful wings of butterflies kind of barcode It can be incorporated into any clothing item. Let’s see how it works.
These lepidopteran wings are one of nature’s most striking phenomena. However, it is not the pigments that we perceive as the color of feathers, but the nanostructures that are arranged in layers so that they reflect different wavelengths of light. This is known as: “Structural color”.
The approach of this project was to create a new type of fiber that is colorless to the eye. reveal specific footprints when exposed to infrared radiation. In this way, they go unnoticed until they reach the recycling plant, where they are scanned and separated according to the material of each garment.
Smart (and recyclable) clothing
At MIT’s Lincoln Labs, they’re working on: Developing the fabric of the futureThese are materials that allow the creation of intelligent or functional clothing. In other words, it adds other features in addition to the insulation or protection that traditional clothing normally provides.For this purpose the integration of electronic components or Manufacture of unprecedented textiles used. For barcodes for textile recycling, we have developed new fibers based on blocks of polymers called preforms. Clothing ecological footprint.
Specifically, the preform for this project is 50 alternating layers of acrylic and polycarbonate When heated, it stretches like liquid candy, forming filaments just one micron thick. When braided, threads with unique reflective properties are formed and woven into the fabric. Here is the key to the project.The ultimate goal is to create Fiber types for each textile: a thread for cotton, another thread for wool, etc. The total amount of these smart fibers makes up a small percentage of the total garment. more sustainable textile industry.
Other Techniques Inspired by Butterfly Wings
The exquisite intricacies of butterfly wings offer lessons in biomimetics beyond MIT-developed smart garments and textile barcodes. In nature, the different colors, patterns, and structures on butterfly wings help deter predators, dissipate heat, and detect the ultrasonic waves emitted by bats as they search for food. These properties have translated into some amazing applications.
- A more efficient solar panel thanks to solar cells that absorb solar radiation better.
- A radiative metamaterial that dissipates heat and allows cooling of buildings.
- Wind turbine blades based on nanostructures.
- A triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) for harvesting wave energy.
- Temperature and optical biosensors, including tamper-proof systems with optical effects.
- A photocatalyst system that enables the generation of green hydrogen from sunlight.
There are countless other uses for butterfly wings, but I won’t go into them here. If you want to learn more about biomimetics, you can read this article on systems that improve energy efficiency or this article on new building materials inspired by beetle exoskeletons. Also, learn more about smart clothing here.