Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Cocona Natural Technology

BY JESSICA HEMMINGS

Cocona®: a dash of coconut for performance textiles

If you are keeping track of the unusual materials that have been brought into the sustainability race for performance textiles, then add coconut shells to your list. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Cocona® uses activated carbon particles generated from the shells of coconut waste from the food industry to increase fabric performance. The approach has caught on, with the company website listing a number of brands now using their product, including Danskin, Mammut, Marmot, New Balance, Oakley, Patagonia, Rossignol and Timberland.

Production involves the transfer of coconut shells (not husks) into activated carbon; a substance often used in air and water filtration systems. Cocona® makes use of the activated carbon particles too small for filtration use and embeds these particles in synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon. Activated carbon’s claim to fame is a large surface area created by the active carbon pores and a high rate of absorption. Because of the significant increase in surface area created by the active (open) carbon pores, the introduction of the activated carbon particles to synthetic fibres improves the evaporation time of the textile by moving moisture away from the wearer’s skin and spreading it across the garment. Duncan Edward’s of Cocona® explains: “our patented technology insures that the carbon pores are open and therefore “active” at the end of the fabric manufacturing process.  Other companies claim to have carbon-based products but their pores are not open at the end of the process and therefore not active.”

The company uses the example of wiping a chalkboard with a damp towel to illustrate how moisture evaporates more rapidly when dispersed over a large surface area. These attributes are important not only for performance clothing, but also for other textile applications such as the fabric used inside running shoes. Rather than being applied to the fabric as a coating or finish, the activated carbon is made part of the fibre during extrusion, which means that the properties won’t wash away or wear off the textile surface over time. The high absorption rate of activated carbon also allows the textile to trap odour, a common downside to synthetic performance fabrics. Garment care involves drying with heat, which the company website explains is achieved when, “odor molecules are released and the carbon refreshed with the heat from washing and drying.”

Cocona® consider the rapid drying time and natural UV protection achieved without the use of chemical additives to be the two primary benefits of the product. The third, what Cocona® refers to as “odour management”, is arguably its innovation. Some companies have returned to the use of natural fibres specifically to combat the odour problem found in synthetics. Cocona® seems to take a middle ground, applying their system to improve the performance of synthetics. Similar alternative fabrics marketed under the green bandwagon currently include bamboo, which is hailed as sustainable because of the rapid growth time of plant. The performance properties of bamboo viscose commonly found in the fashion industry are not remarkable, nor are its intensive production needs particularly green. Bamboo charcoal products are available, but explained by Cocona® to be “marketed on a limited basis… as unbranded, unsupported commodities.” But the suggestion is that this alternative may come with production inconsistencies and a variable quality that a branded product such as Cocona® can avoid for the client.

Cocona® can be commended on their approach, which uses waste from other industries. In this competitive market it is good to see a little pre-production upcycling already at work.

Future Materials (July 2009: 17)