Jeans for medical use? That could soon be a fact. Researchers at Deakin University in Melbourne have discovered by chance that denim can be used to produce a material with cartilage-like properties.
They originally experimented with cellulose fibers and formed them into an aerogel (a solid material of extremely low density) but the similarity to cartilage came unexpectedly, says Nolene Byrne from the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built-up Environment.
The material is made from the cotton of old jeans. “Cellulose is a versatile renewable material, so we can treat denim waste with liquid solvents to dissolve and regenerate as an aerogel or a variety of other forms,” says Byrne.
A pleasant side effect: not only can cartilage substitutes be produced for medical use but textile waste can also be reduced. Byrne notes, “As a result of population growth and development in Third World countries and today’s fast fashion cycles, textile waste continues to increase, resulting in millions of tons of clothing and other textiles being incinerated or dumped.”
Recycling in the textile sector is difficult because most processes use chemicals that make the process less cost effective. Byrne describes Deakin University’s method as upcycling because the product produced from the jeans results in a higher-quality medical component. She also uses environmentally friendly chemicals.
The pilot project is to be expanded in the coming months and years. The researchers hope to be able to reach commercial standards in three to five years with the support of industry.