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Committee Solicits Input for Flax Standard

A task group of ASTM Subcommittee D13.17 on Flax and Linen Products seeks participation from academia, government, and industry as it develops a “Standard Test Method for Assessing Clean Flax Fiber Fineness.”

Assessing clean-flax fiber fineness according to the proposed ASTM standard will help users to avoid processing difficulties because the content of flax products will be defined prior to purchase, according to the task group chair, Jonn Foulk, Category 1 scientist and agricultural engineer, U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service (ARS), Clemson, S.C.

This doesn’t happen now because U.S. standard procedures for marketing for flax fibers haven’t been established, Foulk said. The problem is further complicated because most flax fiber is imported to the U.S. for industrial uses ranging from textiles, to composites, to paper. “U.S. industries that use flax fibers are dependent upon brokers to subjectively determine the quality of these fibers,” he explained. “Despite the fact that globally the U.S. is the largest per-capita consumer of flax fiber, little flax is grown for fiber in the U.S. and most fiber for textiles and composites is imported. Major technical problems associated with establishing a flax fiber industry in the U.S. are the efficiency of harvest methods, fiber extraction and refinement, and the lack of standards for judging fiber quality.

“Flax fiber requires different standards than cotton,” he continued, “due to the composite nature of flax (flax is nature’s composite with bundles of elemental or ultimate flax fibers bound together with natural resins). These standards would be used in the same manner as cotton to streamline fiber marketing using objective standards.”

According to a draft method proposed by the task group, problems occur “during cleaning and processing, because fiber bundles can be further separated and/or shortened, and may or may not be fibrillated on one or both ends.”

“Fibers of varying fineness (fiber and fiber bundle diameter) affect the speed of processing,” Foulk said. “If a bale of flax has a known fineness, processing equipment can be adjusted accordingly. Different fineness levels may indicate different industrial purposes or processing equipment modifications that are currently unknown due to the lack of standards and US marketing system.

The task group includes specialists in microbiology, agronomy and mechanization, and representatives of a Canadian commission working in partnership with the flax industry and allied-agricultural organizations. The group hopes their standard will allow the profitable transformation of flax straw into a range of value-added components, including fibers for textile and non-textile uses, Foulk said.

To participate in this activity or comment, contact Jonn Foulk at the USDA ARS, Clemson, S.C. (phone: 864/656-2488). ASTM Committee D13 meets Oct. 13-16 in Norfolk, Va. For meeting or membership details, contact Maxine Topping, manager, ASTM Technical Committees (phone: 610/832-9737). //

Copyright 2002, ASTM