Conservation, Research and Education Opportunities International

Algal wrack textiles: Using the invasive seaweed Undaria pinnatifida in a functional textile product

M.E. Becherucci

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 1.23.09 PMUndaria pinnatifida is an aggressively invasive macroalgae originating from northeast Asia. It was accidentally introduced to numerous regions worldwide including, in 2011, the coast of Mar del Plata, Argentina. U. pinnatifida has been used since ancient times where it is native, and it is currently cultivated and harvested in many countries around the world. Considering that brown algae, and in particular U. pinnatifida, are a potential source of chemical compounds useful for dermatology, this project attempted to develop an experimental prototype for a textile with nutritive and moisturizing benefits for human skin, using the invasive algae U. pinnatifida from the Mar del Plata coast.

General textile construction consists of a sandwich-type structure of 20×20 cm in which two nonwoven fabrics seal a layer of algae powder that is evenly spread and bonded over the entire interior of the textile. We created experimental prototypes using three combinations of nonwoven fabric: laminate and light spun bonded; heavy spun bonded and heavy spun bonded; and light spun bonded and heavy spun bonded. The algae powder had particulate size no larger than 0.26 mm, which yielded a textile that was soft, pliable and efficient at secreting algal mucilage. The algae powder in contact with water secretes mucilage that is able to escape the textile exterior. This mucilage is rich in vitamin A (353 UL/100 g), vitamin B2 (1.32 mg/100g), magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium (>250 mg/100 g), with no significant concentrations of cadmium, nickel or mercury (less than 0.002 mg, 0.005 mg and 0.0001 mg per 100 g of algae, respectively). In addition, the algae powder does not irritate healthy or abraded skin.

This textile could be used to manufacture clothing for people with reduced mobility or who are temporarily or permanently bedridden. The functionality of the textile comes in providing the patient’s skin with the chemical compounds present in the mucilage of the algae. The manufacture of a textile product that takes advantage of the components of U. pinnatifada would provide an additional option for making use of this invasive algae; qualities which are wasted when the algae is left to decompose on the beach or intentionally removed as part of invasive control measures. It is important to evaluate the potential natural resource represented by the population of U. pinnatifida that is growing along the coast of Mar del Plata. This would include an assessment of population density, distribution, temporal-spatial variation, growth rates and recruitment. This information would allow us to determine the effects of extraction on the species and its habitat, and the amount of raw material that could be available for textile manufacturing. ($2,530)