Global environmental challenges
A bleach that leaves the environment clean, too
Everyone knows bleach makes things cleaner, but until now its active ingredient, chlorine, has made the environment dirtier. Two companies have come up with a bleach that has no chlorine and boasts other environmental benefits as well.
The new bleach is not for home use, but for cotton on its way from field to cloth, as well as for other materials. Oils and waxes must be removed from cotton and it needs to be bleached white before it is dyed.
Huntsman, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, and Genencor, a division of Denmark’s Danisco, say the bleach uses less water and works at lower temperatures — 65 degrees centigrade (150 degrees f) instead of near boiling — than chlorine bleach. That helps save energy and makes it cheaper than chlorinated bleach.
The companies have quietly introduced the product as “Gentle Power Bleach” and will go on a marketing offensive next month at an industry conference in Hong Kong. They have already convinced one tough audience that what they have is real — the U.S. cotton trade association, Cotton Incorporated.
“This is a breakthrough in technology,” said Mary Ankeny, the engineer who leads Cotton Incorporated’s dyeing research.
Enzymes speed up chemical reactions to work and when they finish disappear harmlessly into the environment. By contrast, chlorine bleach is classified by some governments as “hazardous waste” and can be a headache to get rid of.
Genencor’s Silicon Valley facility, which looks at developing enzymes for use in many different areas, developed the enzyme for bleach. Huntsman is scaling up the process and selling it.
(PHOTO: A textile worker handles cotton cloth at the TEXTASA factory in Guatemala City June 8, 2006. REUTERS/Daniel LeClair)