Cotton is King

Here. in West Texas cotton is king. Even though cotton produced isn’t all year round, the students and staff at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Institute work year round to improve cotton producers and consumers.

One of the premier institutes of the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University is the FBRI. FBRI is equipped and staffed to conduct research and development testing ranging from small-scale testing through large-scale manufacturing. Their goal is to change the way the world talks about fiber quality.

A key objective is to foster greater use of the natural fibers and increase manufacturing of Texas cotton.

“Our efforts to enhance the economic value of cotton as an industrial raw material have increasingly involved research at the structural and molecular levels,” said Dean Ethridge, professor and managing director of Texas Tech’s FBRI. “Cotton is an iconic example of a biopolymer. We believe the decisive technological advances of the future will come from such research.”

The focus of FBRI is testing and researching cotton by working with its chemistry of cotton to test the fibers and transform it to yarn. Working with dyeing crops and finishing special yarn and fabric treatments is one of the main objectives. They work with farmers and seed companies to develop new genotype types and gain ideas for new test and research.

“This institute has long had the mission of being the leader in research, education, and development to enhance the use value of cotton,” said Noureddine Abidi, Ph. D., associate professor and associate director of FBRI.

FBRI is located on the east 19th Street exit on East Loop 289 in Lubbock. With 30 acres of land and a building with 100,000 square feet of air-conditioned space, it has 12,000 square feet of laboratories that are specialized with machines and instruments for research.

The FBRI facility has recently upsized its Materials Evaluation Laboratory and is creating the new Biopolymer Research Laboratory. The BRL is fundamental to the institute’s longstanding mission to add value to natural fibers produced in Texas and part of a growing collaboration with plant breeders, geneticists and biotechnologists. The new building will help FBRI increase its research projects.

The knowledge gleaned in the new FBRI building is verified and augmented by the Cotton Phenpmies and Yarn Spinning laboratories. These laboratories are some of the main laboratories at FBRI. The Cotton Phenomics Laboratory provides in depth physical testing and evaluation for fibers, yarns and fabrics.

Besides being essential for the research program at the institute, the new laboratory is indispensible for serving the testing needs of plant breeders, cotton merchants, textile manufacturers, yarn and fabric importers, and waste fiber and linter suppliers. For fibers, measurements are made both on central tendencies and on distributions. The spinning laboratory contains a ring spinning, compact spinning, and open-end rotor spinning machinery.  All required facilitating processes opening, blending, cleaning, carding, combing, drawing, roving, winding, twisting, and plying support these machines.

A new trash and dust handling system ensures constant levels of air pressures and flows, which increases reliability of spinning trials.  Besides enabling observation and documentation of spinning performance, yarns are delivered back to the Materials Evaluation Laboratory for any needed quality measurement.

FBRI is used by many different colleges within Texas Tech University, such as the college of engineering, agricultural sciences and natural resources, and human sciences for advanced degree programs and special courses as well. The institute consists of interdisciplinary faculty with doctorates degrees in chemistry, fiber technology, molecular biology, and agricultural economics.

“Working with grand students, Ph. D. students, interns, and internationally students help this institute grow not only in Lubbock but all over the world,” Abidi said.

Several graduate level courses are taught through the Department of Plant and Soil Science and the Department of Industrial Engineering. Professional education includes the Texas International Cotton School, as well as short courses, conferences, seminars and special tours.

Scholars from throughout the world conduct postgraduate research at this center. More than 4,000 people visit annually to see the research and testing done by these students and staff at FBRI.

The objective of FBRI is to foster greater use of the natural fibers and increase textile manufacturing in Texas. FBRI works with cotton from all over Texas but the main source of cotton tested is from the West Texas region.

“Cotton is the king in West Texas, so our job here is to do research and testing and make sure cotton remains the king of West Texas,” said Abidi.

Texas accounts for 60 percent of the U.S. cotton acreage, and West Texas makes up for over half of that. Having FBRI in West Texas helps farmers get a better understanding of the strength of their cotton and how the testing and research is done first hand.

“Over the last 10 years, West Texas cotton has experienced a dramatic transformation through new transgenic cotton varieties and advanced technology, but collaborative research was what helped bring the regional and national cotton industries to greener pastures,” said Ethridge.

As the world population is expected to double by 2050, farmers and ranchers are rapidly trying to feed and clothe our world’s population. With the help of FBRI, cotton producers will be able to do their part by keeping their industry up to the task of pleasing consumers and putting clothes on their backs.

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