Corn debuts as fiber at Neocon

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, June 25, 2001

Chicago — Watch out for that corn you'll be eating this summer. It may be the basis of new home textiles products a year or two from now.

The first of many new home products using corn as a fiber base was introduced at Neocon here last week.

The fiber, developed and produced by Cargill Dow under its NatureWorks banner, is created from corn — an annually renewable resource that performs as well as or better than conventional synthetic, Andy Shafer, commercial director for fibers, Cargill Dow said.

It is the latest step in the growing move to produce fibers and fabrics that are "green" and recyclable.

The corn-based fibers offer improved performance in addition to using natural products, which are compostable, Shafer said. The attributes are three-fold, he noted: a renewable resource, high performance, and a reduced impact on the environment. The fiber production uses 20 percent to 50 percent less fossil fuels than synthetics, and they are recyclable, he said.

While the Terratex fabrics introduced by Interface Fabrics Group and the Great Plains Collection carpet tiles by Interface Flooring Systems are targeted for the contract market, development also is under way for comforters, quilts, bed pillows, mattress pads, mattresses, ticking and decorative fabrics, Vicki Bousman, fibers marketing/brand manager, added.

The fire-retardant properties "are very attractive, and there also is UV [ultraviolet] stability for draperies and window treatment fabrics," Bousman said.

Cargill Dow, a joint venture between Cargill Inc., the commodity grain processor, and Dow Chemical, is building a polylactide polymer plant in Blair, NE, that will produce about 300 million pounds of polylactide (PLA) and use about 40,000 bushels of corn feed daily.

The company now is producing some 15 to 16 million pounds of the fiber in a facility in Minnesota working with customers in developing the new products, Shafer said.

Currently PLA-based clothing and packaging are available in Japan, including 50/50 rayon blend and denim, Bousman reported.

Comparing the corn-based fiber with other fibers, Bousman said: "In the various applications, they are equal to or better in performance as synthetics or natural fibers. And the costs are competitive with specialty synthetics."

And equally as important, Bousman noted, "There are no machine modifications needed either for filament or staple fibers."

Looking beyond corn, Shafer said, "We can envision fiber sources from sugar beets, wheat, rice, potatoes and vegetable waste like corn leaves or corn stalks."

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