Wal-Mart Foundation Funds Research that Could Improve Denim Dyeing Method

Texas Tech's Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute was awarded the $470,000 grant.

Texas Tech's Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute was awarded the $470,000 grant.

Texas Tech University’s Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute announced today (Aug. 14) that a research project was awarded more than $470,000 in funding by the Wal-Mart Foundation.

The study, titled “Foam Indigo Dyeing of Cotton Yarns: Machine Design and Process Control,” received a grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, of $472,564.13.

According to the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute (FBRI) Managing Director Dean Ethridge, the project is aimed at reducing the amount of water, contaminants, time, labor, floor space and expense needed to apply indigo dye to denim yarns.

The Fiber and Biopolymer Institute’s research team is attempting to determine machine design parameters and process controls necessary for the foam application of pre-reduced indigo on yarns. By doing so, it could provide a more cost-efficient and ecologically sound method of dyeing denim.

“Wal-Mart has long been a mainstay of the retail sector in this region of Texas, and cotton has long been ‘king’ here,” Ethridge said. “Now the Wal-Mart Foundation is enabling crucial developmental research into one of the most dominant cotton textile products in the world – indigo dyed denim.

“Success in this project would reduce the water used to indigo dye denim by more than 90 percent. It would introduce a new paradigm for indigo dyeing that would enable drastic reductions in costs and drastic improvements in environmental impacts. Without a doubt, it would be among the greatest legacies of Texas Tech University’s Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute.”

Industry Collaboration

Through the use of foam application, which saves on water and is more environmentally friendly, researchers hope to make more efficient the process of indigo dyeing of denim, which is one of the largest cost components of denim fabric manufacturing. Indigo dye is a natural organic dye that has been synthetically produced and used as the main colorant of denim, particularly blue jeans, for more than 100 years, according to Ethridge.

“We are extremely pleased that FBRI has received this major grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation,” said Michael Galyean, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. “This work, which involves collaboration with the industry to develop more cost-effective and environmentally friendly dying methods for fabrics, reflects the real-world focus of our scientists at FBRI and their commitment to apply science to everyday life.”

The grant, one of several awarded by the Wal-Mart Foundation, was announced at the company’s U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Denver. Texas Tech’s grant was one of seven awarded by the foundation to various projects.

"Without a doubt, it would be among the greatest legacies of Texas Tech University’s Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute.”
–Dean Ethridge, managing director

“We are delighted that FBRI has brought us in as a partner in this important effort,” said Robert V. Duncan, Texas Tech vice president for research. “Coloring cotton is actually a very complex process, and innovations such as foam technology over conventional liquid-phase dyeing may ultimately result in lower process costs and hence a better value for the customer. This application of basic science to achieve better industrial results is exactly the sort of research that we intend to expand upon in the future.”

"In addition to Ethridge, other members of the research team include Noureddine Abidi, FBRI director of Biopolymer Research; Howard Malpass, an indigo dye consultant; and several members of American Cotton Growers Denim in Littlefield. Those members are Ralph Tharpe, Casey Bownds, Larry Griffin, Gerald Gohlke, Bryan Gregory and Larry Lundberg.”

The Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute, a 110,000-square-foot facility located on East Loop 289 just north of 19th Street, conducts research and testing of natural and man-made fibers in order to increase the use of natural fibers in textile manufacturing in Texas. It also focuses on production and evaluation of yarns and fabrics, alternative textile processing systems, dyeing and finishing of fibers and special yarn and fabric treatments.

FBRI operates under the Department of Plant and Soil Science under the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources


The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is made up of six departments:

  • Agriculture and Applied Economics
  • Agricultural Education and Communications
  • Animal and Food Science
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Plant and Soil Science
  • Natural Resources Management

The college also consists of eleven research centers and institutes, including the Cotton Economics Research Institute, the International Cotton Research Center and the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute.



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