Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, is widely believed to have bathed in milk to keep her skin soft and beautiful. Most of us just stick to drinking it. But it seems milk in various forms can be beneficial when applied externally – to relieve insect bites or sunburn, for example.
So it only takes one more step to imagine wearing it. Yes, clothing made from milk fiber is even predicted to become the ‘next big thing’ in the fashion world – mainly because of its environmental credentials.
What exactly is milk fiber? it’s made by dehydrating and skimming milk and extracting a protein called casein – also used in cheesemaking and as a binding agent in glues and paints. Casein and acrylonitrile (the key ingredient in acrylic fiber) are then grafted together chemically, and spun to produce the fiber.
First time around
Milk fiber was first used to make clothes in the late 1930s in Italy and America. Generally blended with other fibers it was considered an alternative to wool – which was badly needed for the men fighting in the Second World War. However, not as strong or elastic as wool, it was overtaken by popular new synthetics like nylon.
Today, improved techniques and changing attitudes to the natural world have given milk fiber a second chance. Like other bio-synthetic yarns (bamboo, banana and soy, for example) it’s moth-proof. It also shines, is luxurious like silk and is stronger than before.
But Anke doesn’t just produce milk fiber – she does it in a completely new way. After two years’ research and development with the Bremen Fiber Institute, Qmilch is the first company to produce the fiber successfully without using chemicals. Also, since the wet spinning stage normally used to remove the chemicals is not required, she uses far less water. as a result, her process is not only greener, but also much quicker and more economical than that of her competitors.
Though her production recipe is a secret, Anke explains: “To produce one kilo of fiber, other manufacturers require about 20,000 liters of water. The process can take up to 60 hours. whereas we now produce 27 kilos per hour and use only two liters of water. Our target by may 2012 is 70 kilos per hour.”
From fiber to fashion
While Qmilch is busy speeding up production, Anke’s fashion label MCC is also doing well. She sells her range – mostly dresses and all a minimum of 30 per cent milk fiber – to stores worldwide. Her growing number of private customers often contact her to ask her advice on the benefits of wearing milk liber and to order bespoke garments. “It’s so smooth to wear, not itchy like wool,” she says. “And it’s very light. Some customers say it feels like wearing nothing at all!”
There’s little doubt milk fiber is adaptable to other markets, such as bedding, underwear, sportswear, furniture covers and car upholstery. Its anti-allergenic and anti-bacterial properties make it suitable for textiles used for medical purposes.
The key challenge is to build up production to meet the fiber’s fast growing popularity. By the end of 2012, Anke hopes to set up a new factory, produce 560 tonnes a year and increase her staff from six to 20. “I never expected such demand so quickly. But I am young and not at all scared. It feels
GEA and casein
About a quarter of all milk produced worldwide passes through equipment supplied by GEA Group companies. This includes processing of various dairy products, such as casein. GEA Farm Technologies is one of the world’s leading solutions and system providers for milk production and livestock farming, offering a total solutions package from design and planning of barns and business concepts to daily herd and farm management.
GEA Mechanical Equipment produces process lines for casein production by means of acid or rennet precipitation. These machines are centrifugal separators for skimming and degerminating milk and decanters for separating casein and whey. Gasketed Ecoflex plate heat exchangers made by GEA Heat Exchangers are used here in the different process stages, e.g. milk pasteurization, skimmed milk warming and regenerative whey recooling. They are also integrated in the downstream whey processing stages in whey pasteurization.
GEA Heat Exchangers designs, manufactures and installs a wide range of cooling towers for general cooling processes in milk product factories.
GEA Process Engineering also contributes units to the casein production process, e.g. spray driers by GEA Niro, ring driers by GEA Barr-Rosin and systems by GEA Filtration.
GEA Refrigeration Technologies offers innovative refrigeration solutions for a great number of applications in the food and beverage industry – including the storage, transport, and further processing of many and various dairy products.