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Fibers & Textiles Raw

Fibers & Textiles Raw materials supply level Extrusion / processing level Fibre exit and fibre post processing Casein-based polymers Qmilk on the road to success About a year ago, bioplastics MAGAZINE reported about Qmilk ® , who have developed an innovative and unique technology for the production of textile fibres made from the milk protein, casein. The development includes textile fibres for various applications including clothing, home textiles, industrial applications, medical equipment and automotive equipment. In addition the company is working on different grades for non-fibre applications. bioplastics MAGAZINE visited Qmilk in Hanover, Germany. How it started The initial idea was to use casein from raw milk that is no Ionger suitable for sale and, under the current legislation cannot be used as food. ln Germany alone every year 1.9 million tonnes of milk must be disposed of. Globally more than 100 million tonnes of milk are wasted every year. This so-called non-food milk is the base raw material for Qmilk. After their first approaches with fibres made at the Fibre Institute Bremen (Germany) Qmilk collected some investors money and started to set up a production in a 3000 m 2 building in Hanover. This includes offices and laboratories and a small Tech Center where besides some injection moulding machines a small Leistritz corotating twin screw extruder is installed to develop and improve recipes. The pilot unit Brand new and quite impressive is the huge pilot processing unit (see photograph). This three stories high unit includes all to produce up to 1000 tonnes per year of either fibres or granules for other applications. The process starts on the third level with the in-feed boxes for the milk powder, and dosing of other ingredients. One level down a 30mm Leistritz twin screw mixes and kneads the recipe which is then extruded either into the spinning dies or a granulator. On the ground floor the spun fibre-filaments are finally collected to strings and stretched via a number of heated rollers. The raw materials “Currently we are getting non-food powdered milk from the dairy companies,” explains Anke Domaske founder and CEO of Qmilk. “But the in the long term we will collect the milk directly from the farmers. A special company Qmilk collect is already founded and preparing its start of operations. “We plan to start up our own casein plant in 2016,” says Anke Domaske. Basically when milk gets contaminated or else no longer usable for food, it is collected in special tanks, either still on the farm or at the dairy company. Then the milk turns sour and the two phases of the sour milk: whey and curd are separated. In further steps the curd is being processed to powdered milk, containing the casein which is later being used to make the biopolymer. And what about the fat and the milk sugar? Also this will be used. “We strive to find the maximum utilisation of every part of the waste stream,” explains Ines Klinger, project manager at Qmilk. 20 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/14] Vol. 9

Fibers & Textiles The fibres The pilot plant is being used to further develop and optimize the recipes and to develop new grades. For the fibres currently counts of 3.3 and 6.1 dtex are the standard. “But we also succeeded in making 1.7 dtex,” Anke tells us proudly. Qmilk will mainly produce staple fibres and continuous filaments. The conversion of the staple fibres into yarns will then be performed by the customers. Dyeing of the fibres is absolutely no problem. “On the contrary,” says Ines Klinger, “casein it a substance that is very good miscible with pigments.” That is why casein is also commercially used in the paint industry for example. Qmilk is strongly working on getting the plant to higher outputs, as the company is currently handling more than 300 requests from textile customers that are waiting in line to buy the casein based fibres and yarns. About half of the projects are interested in using 100% Qmilk fibres, the other 50% will use it in blended fabrics. And clothing is by far not the only field of applications. Besides home textiles and technical textiles even applications such as reinforcing cords in tires are within the scope of investigation. The plastic But the Qmilk-polymer can not only be used for the spinning of fibres. The pilot plant allows moving the spinning dies aside and installing a granulator instead. Depending on the recipe and the processing parameters a wide variety of plastic grades, with different property spectrums can be produced. Certainly this is a wide field for investigation and development. Both fibres and plastics have in common their very special properties of • being made from a biobased waste stream (milk) • showing antibacterial behaviour • inherent flame retardancy • good chemical resistance • a (comparably) low density of 1.127 g/cm 3 • a low melting point (energy advantages when melting and cooling, and thus in short cycle times) Outlook Anke Domaske and the growing team are enthusiastic and work hard on the progress. They are planning to have the pilot plant on full production (1000 tonnes/a) by early next year. The continuous development of new recipes and the optimization of the processes is another big target. “And we are always striving to make Qmilk even more sustainable,” as Anke points out. The use of the milk’s own water, which is currently still wasted, as process water for Qmilk, is just one example. Milk powder infeed Anke Domaske at her twin screw extruder By: Michael Thielen bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/14] Vol. 9 21

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