An Egyptian consortium develops first textile palm fibers and reinforcements

A consortium of five Egyptian researchers have developed high performance fibers and reinforcements extracted from the byproducts of pruning of date palms, such as fronds and fruit branches, also known as PalmFil.

The fiber is not only sustainable, but also economical in manufacturing, compatible with textile and composite processing and offers the properties needed for lightweight cars of the future.

Dr. Mohamad Midani, Partner, PalmFil Consortium said:

In the 1980’s the shift from natural fibers to manmade fibers was mainly to bridge the gap between the increasing demand for textile fibers and the limited supply of natural fibers. To reverse this shift, there is a need to explore more sources of natural fibers and increase the biodiversity of fiber crops. This is actually what we did, there are more than 140 million date palms mostly concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa, generating yearly more than 4.8 million tons (dry wt.) byproducts of pruning regarded as agriculture waste. This represented a burden on palm growers, and was the main cause of fire accidents and infestation by dangerous insects. Those byproducts could otherwise be transformed into 1.3 million tons/year natural textile fibers, ranking third after cotton and jute.”

There have been several previous attempts to extract fibers from date palm byproducts through crushing and grinding, resulting in a biomass rather than textile fibers. PalmFil consortium succeeded in extracting long textile fiber from such byproducts and converted it into fiber tow, chopped fiber, spun yarn/roving, nonwoven mat, woven fabric, and unidirectional tape. The new fiber represent a sustainable material base for a wide spectrum of industries. Ranging from natural reinforcements for composites in automotive and sporting goods, plaster reinforcements in construction, burlap sacks for packaging, ropes, and twines, non-wood papers, and other consumer products.

Mr. Dilip Tambyrajah, Secretary General, International Natural Fiber Organization exlained:

Date palm byproducts have been used for centuries in the Middle East and it is a heritage related material. It is culturally embedded in Middle Easterns but possibly forgotten in modernity. Recent R&D conducted by PalmFil consortium demonstrates the potential of date palm fiber; its use in the modern context and in industrial settings. Revival of the fiber sector in the Middle East will need dedication and national commitment. The use of date palm fiber is not the issue. The use of most natural materials like the date palm fiber contribute towards maintaining biodiversity, provide employment and income and enable sustainable development in general. However, the key to its revival will be the national will and support to encourage the development of a reliable supply chain that can service the various production sectors that could use the fiber.”

Dr. Ahmed Hassanin, Partner, PalmFil Consortium said:

It has been a long five years marathon of self-supported research, relying completely on our personal funding and driven by a strong believe on the impact of such innovation on the sustainable development of rural communities and their livelihoods. We wanted to rediscover this underutilized resource, and prove to the whole world that we could economically extract textile fibers from it, without abiding to the agenda of any funding institution.”

PalmFil circular economy
Fig. 2 – PalmFil Contribution to the circular bioeconomy (Source: PalmFil)

The new date palm fiber is obtained from renewable bioresources and it does not cause deforestation or compete with food production. It is 100% biodegradable and compostable and has specific tensile strength 5 times higher than structural steel, and equal to those of flax, hemp and sisal. Its vibration damping and acoustical insulation is higher than those of glass and carbon and with thermal insulation higher than carbon. Moreover, it can be easily blended with other long fibers such as flax, sisal, and abaca, or it could be chopped and blended with hemp, kenaf, and jute.

Dr. Tamer Hamouda, Partner, PalmFil Consortium said:

We did a comprehensive research to optimize the extraction process and we did a thorough characterization of the new fiber. The research results were very well received by the scientific community and featured in research and review articles in some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the field, such as, Industrial Crops and Products (Elsevier) and Cellulose (Springer). The new fiber was also well accepted by the industrial community in Egypt, and it has been processed on a full industrial scale spinning line at the Egyptian Industrial Center of Flax. We are currently establishing connections with the leading automotive manufacturers in Europe, and we are conducting a dedicated research on date palm fiber composites in automotive.”

PalmFil technology contributes to the circular bioeconomy following a closed loop cycle from cradle to cradle. Moreover, the extraction technology could be applied to byproducts of other palm species such as oil palm, sugar palm, doum palm as well as other agriculture byproducts such as broomcorn.

PalmFil consortium have more than 50 years of combined experience in fiber science, textile technology and composite engineering. They are currently seeking partnership to further develop, scale-up, and commercialize PalmFil technology.

Fig. 3 – PalmFil technology delegnifies and fibrillates the date palm frond vascular bundles into fine fibrils (Source PalmFil)

More information:

Fig. 1 – Featured image: Textile fibers and reinforcements from date palm byproducts of pruning (Source: PalmFil)

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