A chemical invention wins H&M’s award

An ionic liquid invented by researchers at the University’s Department of Chemistry uses cellulose to replace cotton and synthetic fibres.

Revolutionising the recycling of cotton, the Ioncell-F process won the H&M Global Change Award. The process was developed through collaboration between the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Ionic solvents have been investigated and developed at the University of Helsinki for years. The researchers headed by Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen made a breakthrough in 2013 when they discovered an ionic liquid that dissolves fibre and has promising properties for the reuse of chemicals.  

Kilpeläinen’s method for dissolving cellulose with new solvents is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, consumes little water and does not place as heavy a burden on the environment as traditional methods for the production of cotton or viscose.

“I believe that in the future we will have many methods to isolate the components of wood from each other and to convert them into biodegradable materials,” says Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen. “Cellulose can also be used to manufacture heat-mouldable resistant materials like plastic.”

H&M seeks ideas for the sustainable development of the fashion industry

More than 2,700 entries were submitted for the H&M Global Change Award. The H&M-appointed jury selected the five best entries, which were put to a public vote. The winner was the Ioncell-F process developed by the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. This process will revolutionise the recycling of cotton by enabling the dissolution of cotton from waste fibre with an environmentally friendly method based on ionic solvents.

The process was developed by a team including Professor Herbert Sixta, Professor Pirjo Kääriäinen, doctoral student Marjaana Tanttu and postdoctoral researcher Michael Hummel of Aalto University; Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen, Docent Alistair King and MSc Arno Parviainen of the University of Helsinki; and Professor Ali Harlin of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. They were awarded with €300,000 at a gala held in Stockholm on 10 February.

All five finalists will gain access to a tailored one-year innovation programme organised by the H&M Conscious Foundation, Accenture and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

See the YouTube video: From Birch to Catwalk - The Journey of Ioncell Fiber