Old denim jeans don’t have to fade away. They can be repurposed as synthetic cartilage for joint reconstruction.

The high cellulose content makes the cotton material amenable to dissolution in liquid solvents, after which an aerogel featuring nanoscopic tunnels is formed. Researchers from Australia’s Deakin University can tune the aerogel to optimize tunnel size and distribution, resulting in a material suitable for use as cartilage-like bioscaffolds.

Other potential uses of the denim-derived aerogel include membranes for water filtration systems and batteries. The process could also be used to reduce the volumes of textile waste now being landfilled. The use of environmentally-friendly chemicals to recycle denim into a more advanced material overcomes the cost barriers associated with other ‘upcycling’ techniques.

Current pilot-scale trials are expected to lead to commercial scale technology within three to five years.

Aerogel made from dissolved denim. Source: Deakin UniversityAerogel made from dissolved denim. Source: Deakin University

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com