China's rice straw provides material for New Zealand innovation

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-6-14 15:57:14

People around the world might soon find a comfortable seat made from China's vast amounts of rice straw the waste left over from rice harvest thanks to a New Zealand company which plans to turn it into a hard-wearing fabric.

Wellington-based textiles firm The Formary is in talks with state-owned Chinese rice company Grand Peak (Tianjin) to commercialize their latest fabric an innovative blend of rice straw and wool.

The company's Managing Director Bernadette Casey said Thursday that besides being durable and attractive, the fabric has a host of environmental benefits, including its low-pollution manufacturing process.

"The Chinese government has a target in its five-year plan to reuse 75 percent of the rice straw waste. Some of it is currently reused in cattle feed, for heating or matting, but a lot of it is burnt off, so air quality is also quite an issue," Casey told Xinhua in a phone interview.

With the global population expected to rise by 2 billion in the next 40 years, the world's farmers would have to produce about 50 percent more food.

"When you've got fiber-only crops like cotton that take up vast amounts of arable land and chemicals and water, using the fibers of edible crops like rice is a much more viable way of increasing the value of the land and increasing the value of the crop," she said.

Rice straw fibers have great tensile strength, but they also had anti-bacterial and fire-resistant properties, which made the new textile perfect for upholstery, as well as carpets or curtains, she added.

Grand Peak was very keen to begin commercialization of the textile after the next rice harvest in October, and The Formary was arranging suppliers of New Zealand strong wool.

Casey was in China this month discussing the plans to license out the technology for the textile with Grand Peak (Tianjin) and the Ministry of Agriculture.

The production process involves retting the rice straw or soaking it a bath for a couple of days with enzymes that separate out the fibers and then processing the fibers with wool.

Nicknamed "Rice Rice Baby" during its development at The Formary, Grand Peak would be offered the chance to formally name the textile, said Casey.

"We'd like to explore other products that could be used to get a lot of value out of rice straw," said Casey.

"New Zealand would never be able to supply enough wool to use all the rice straw and China would never be able to use all the upholstery fabric."

The New Zealand company has already made a name for itself after devising a process to transform used coffee sacks from the U. S.-based global coffee shop chain Starbucks into high-quality upholstery fabric, which is manufactured in New Zealand, Germany and Italy.

The new rice fiber textile would also be marketed internationally, said Casey.

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