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Clean green way to dye wool takes off

An Australian-invented method for dyeing wool is poised to revolutionise the way elite quality fashion fabrics are coloured in the 21st Century.

CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology (TFT) announced today it has licensed its acclaimed Sirolan-LTD® wool dyeing technology to Australia Pacific Specialty Chemical Limited, APS, in partnership with The Woolmark Company.

Sirolan-LTD® is the outcome of more than 12 years' research into cleaner, greener and more cost efficient ways to dye high quality wool textiles by scientists at CSIRO TFT in Geelong.

The technique employs a special helper— chemical (an auxiliary) called Valsol LTA-N to pretreat the surface of the wool fibres so they take up even deep shades more rapidly and evenly, while using less energy to do so.

"We began by studying how dyes actually penetrate the wool fibre, finding their way through tiny gaps between the microscopic scales on its surface," explains CSIRO TFT's Dr John Rippon.

"We then looked for a chemical that would modify these gaps to allow the dye to diffuse into the fibre more rapidly and evenly.

"The result is that pre-treated wool takes up dye in half the time or at a lower temperature. Either way it saves the processor energy, reduces greenhouse emissions and lowers costs," he says.

"It also overcomes the problem of uneven dye uptake by the wool caused by natural weathering of the tips of the fibres when the wool is on the sheep. It's particularly effective for dyeing wool-nylon blends evenly."

Sirolan-LTD® can be used at a lower temperature — 85-90 degrees Celsius, instead of at the boil, or else the mixture can be boiled for a much shorter time. On average, this cuts electricity demand in the dyeing process by around 20 per cent — and greenhouse emissions by a similar proportion.

It results in much more uptake of dye and mothproofers by the fibre, leaving clear water to be discharged by the processor into the environment. The substance itself also biodegrades easily and leaves no toxic residues.

Dyeing the wool at a lower temperature, or for a shorter time at the boil, results in far less fibre damage than conventional dyeing methods. This in turn leads to greater efficiencies in the spinning and weaving stages.

Dr Rippon says that Sirolan-LTD® works with all kinds of wool dyes, but its benefits are most apparent with dyes of high molecular weight used to produce elite worsteds for top quality men's and women's suits and fashion apparel. It can be used as a replacement for all existing dye auxiliaries.

The new licence grants APS, rights to market the process around the world.

"We're very optimistic about the market potential of the process. This is now a proven technology which is receiving excellent feedback from wool processors who are using it," Dr Rippon says.

"It is perfectly profiled for 21st century textile fabrics — it's clean, green and economic."

More information: Dr John Rippon, CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology, (00613) 5246 4081 or visit www.csiro.au or www.australia.org.nz

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