A textile engineer from Bangladesh and a PhD student at the Deakin University’s Institute of Technology and Resource Innovation, Ms Tarannum Afrin is developing a method of processing bamboo she hopes will be environmentally friendly and allow the fibres to retain their moisture-controlling and antibacterial properties. Researcher Ms Afrin, of Deakin’s Centre for Materials and Fibre Innovation, has discovered the property that gives bamboo its UV-protective characteristics which could result in bamboo fibres soon being turned into UV-blocking clothing.
The deadliest skin cancer, melanoma, kills 1200 Australians every year. But now clothing made of bamboo fibre could offer protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing and most versatile grasses in the world. With a growth rate of up to a metre a day, it can be eaten, made into bridges, beds and boats, used to make shelters, floors and entire buildings — and even worn.
Ms Afrin says bamboo is an emerging fibre for the textile and medical industries. It resembles cotton in its unspun form, a puffball of light, airy threads. Although manufacturers have claimed that bamboo products have an excellent appearance and feel and are UV-shielding and moisture-absorbing, many of the claims have not been proved — until now.
“We know bamboo is 60 per cent better than cotton at blocking the sun’s UV rays and my research has identified the component in bamboo which gives it these qualities,” Ms Afrin says. “But when you make textile fibre out of bamboo the challenge is to retain the structure that gives it its moisture wicking properties.”
After obtaining a degree in textile technology from Dhaka University in Bangladesh, Ms Afrin undertook a master’s degree at Manchester Metropolitan University in Britain. She later worked as a quality control officer in a Sydney garment manufacturer before starting her PhD at Deakin last year.
The research involves Australian-grown bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescens) collected in Queensland. Ms Afrin says she discovered Australia even has a bamboo society — and it was fascinating to see how the Australian species that originated from Asia behaved in the Australian climate.
“Raw bamboo has numerous micro gaps or grooves like capillaries in its structure which have been revealed by scanning electron microscopy and confocal microscopy,” she says. “It is because of this highly porous structure that bamboo can rapidly soak moisture. We are trying to develop a new fibre-manufacturing technique that allows this unique structure to be retained in the fibre which will offer improved wicking properties in clothes such as sportswear.”
Ms Afrin says manufacturers dissolve bamboo fibres in different solvents such as sodium hydroxide solution and carbon disulfide and then regenerate it as cellulosic fibre. But this is the same conventional procedure to make rayon and the only difference is that bamboo replaces wood pulp as the raw material.
“Realising this, the US Federal Trade Commission has banned labelling bamboo-based clothing as ‘bamboo’.”
As a result of her research, Ms Afrin identified the component in bamboo that gives it its UV-protecting qualities. Using optical measurements, she compared raw bamboo with common fibres such as cotton, 100 per cent cellulose and commercially available bamboo yarns. She found that bamboo had the best UV-blocking ability among all the samples and was at least 60 per cent better than cotton.
“We are now working to develop an eco-friendly manufacturing model to process bamboo plants into fibre without losing their unique properties,” she says. “We are using bio-enzymes and mechanical force to disintegrate the lignin and hemicellulose from the cellulose, which is a big challenge because our bamboo species is nearly 30 per cent lignin, a cement-like gummy material.”
Ms Afrin says that, unlike cotton, bamboo needs little water or irrigation to survive. It can also be grown in poor soil. If planted in Victoria’s barren lands, it would contribute substantially to carbon reduction.
She says a hectare of bamboo can absorb up to 100 tonnes of CO2 and could contribute to a green and sustainable Australia.
Tarannum Afrin has presented her work on bamboo fibre in Dhaka in last January at an international conference (ICTA) organized by Bangladesh Textile Today. Australian media has covered her work in October very enthusiastically. Whole Australia and also the world is waiting to see the research’s success in saving people from the deadly skin cancer caused by UV ray.