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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Students create eco-friendly alternative for fashion industry

Estefanía Cortés and Jeileen Luciano

By The Star Staff

Estefanía Cortés, a student at the University of Puerto Rico High School, and Jeileen Luciano, a student of the Graduate Program of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (UPR-RRP), have developed textiles using macroalgae, thus creating an eco-friendly alternative for the fashion industry.

As part of a research project, Cortés had the idea of working with fabrics and wanted to give it a “scientific twist,” so she joined Luciano on the project. Their interest in environmental conservation united them and they made the decision to merge their talents and develop eco-friendly textile options.

So far, the students have created nine different textiles, making use of the biomass macroalgae Sargassum sp., Jania sp. and Ulva fasciata and their bioproducts. Once they obtain the material, they conduct characterization processes in order to test the effectiveness. Through their research they discovered that the textiles they developed and demonstrated are equally or more resistant compared to existing materials on the market such as nylon, polyester or silk, among others.

According to the students, biotextiles made with polysaccharides extracted from macroalgae turned out to be more resistant and hydrophobic. As for the textiles generated with whole biomass of macroalgae, those generated with the macroalgae Jania sp. presented better properties of thermal, tensile and water resistance. The textiles manufactured in the research process have great potential, the students said, since their composition can be optimized, changing the size and proportion of biomass/polysaccharides to make them more resistant to heat and mechanical changes.

“We take advantage of this raw material and – instead of seeing it as a problem – we look for a solution,” Luciano said. “Not only do we impact the scientific part by developing materials, but they are also projects that are taken to communities and schools.”

Cortés and Luciano aspire to be able to commercialize their textiles and designs in the near future. Cortés, who is in her senior year, has an interest in the development of sustainable materials, the creation of environmental policies and fashion design. In addition, she has studied fashion design at the Carlota Alfaro Fashion Academy.

Luciano, meanwhile, whose project focuses on the development of smart textiles using marine macroalgae, aspires to be a researcher and teacher to make science more accessible in schools and communities.

The young women’s work was presented in the exhibition “Mujeres Latinas en las Ciencias” at the UPR-RRP School of Natural Sciences, where they presented a suit made with alginate and carrageenan textiles of their own creation.

All research was conducted in the Environmental and Sustainability Chemistry Laboratory of Dr. Liz Díaz, a professor and researcher in the Chemistry Department in the UPR-RRP School of Natural Sciences.

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