Success Story: Ecofibre Renewables Inc.

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Refining Technological Innovations

“The technological support and expertise provided by the Bio-Industrial Opportunities Section gave me peace of mind. I was able to let go of the reins and allow them to do what was necessary to make it work. I had complete confidence in their abilities.”
— Zachary Champoux, Founder
EcoFibre Renewables Inc.

With the prospect of over 2000 tonnes of textile waste going into a Calgary landfill each year, EcoFibre Renewables Inc. was conceived. In June 2014, EcoFibre Renewables was awarded one-to-one funding through the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) to be used to determine an economically viable way to sort textiles. Less about private industry and more about a way to revolutionize our way of living, specialized textile sorting would allow for textiles to be diverted from landfills and thus targeted for use in various applications.

EcoFibre Renewables first began working with a consultant at TechFibre Industries. This knowledgeable consultant understood the parameters of the task at hand and knew that the Bio-Industrial Opportunities Section (BIO Section) of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry could provide the required expertise as well as a competitive fee structure.

EcoFibre Renewables then presented the problem to the BIO Section team. They had to deal with two aspects of sorting, colour and composition. Hand sorting of textiles not only incurs potential human error but also is recognized as being more time-consuming. With hundreds of possible textile variations, even the most discerning eye cannot see the difference between a 60/40 cotton/polyester blend and a 70/30. With a specialized sensor, the guesswork would be reduced if not eliminated altogether.

With non-destructive NIR sensing technology as the baseline solution, the BIO Section team proceeded to build a controlled study. They first built a database of fabrics from hundreds of supplied samples. A spectral prediction model was developed for further sorting, which enabled the determination of colour and composition of the sample textiles. With these advancements, the BIO Section team continued to strive for accuracies beyond an acceptable commercial rate of 85%. The problem presented was attacked with scientific rigour, seeking the best possible outcomes.

The BIO Section provided value-added services that involved some outsourcing. The staff sent cotton to a plant in Michigan to be pulverized into dust. That dust was later compounded with polyethylene and tested in an extrusion process. Because the BIO Section had this equipment on hand, EcoFibre Renewables was able to see, first-hand, the potential benefits this hybrid product could bring to the automotive industry, for example, and the production of composite vehicle parts. The replacement of fibreglass with these renewable fibres creates filler products that are lighter and less expensive, while maintaining all previous performance standards.

Today, the BIO Section team are still refining the sensor technology and laying the groundwork for the future construction of an industrialized sensor. They applied scientific methods to the problem at hand and reached a solution proving that sorting textiles through the use of sensors was indeed possible and thus a viable solution to taking waste out of the waste stream. With an attitude of excellence applied to this query, lack of confidence in the outcome was never an issue.

Alberta Agriculture & Forestry
Bio-Industrial Opportunities Section
Agri-Food Discovery Place
Building F-83, 6020 – 118 Street
Edmonton Alberta T6G 2E1
Phone: (780) 644-8118

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Victor Cheng.
This information published to the web on February 3, 2015.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 1, 2015.