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Planet Earth

A Kernel of Style

By Fenella SaundersSeptember 1, 2000 5:00 AM

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Ecology-mided folks have a new way to wear their concerns on their sleeves. Cargill Dow, a polymer company in Nebraska, has found a way to spin clothing fibers out of cornstarch. Right now they're using starch from the kernels, but the process could someday turn agricultural waste into crisp polo shirts.

Photo by Cargill Dow

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Through a mix of fermenatation and chemical processing, Cargill Dow transforms Cornstarch into lactic acid and then into a long, elastic molecule. The resulting material is as strong and resilient as regular plastics. It can be mmolded or spun into a silky, breathable fabric. "Our raw material comes from sunlight and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, whereas in any other plastic, that raw material comes from hydrocarbons out of the ground," says Pat Gruber, Cargill Dow's vice president of technology. "Overall we can use 20 to 50 percent less fossill resources in manufacturing our product." Corn-based food containers and clothing have hit stores in Europe and Japan, where one eco-friendly designer created a wedding dress from the biodegradable fiber.

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