Textile Industry and DOE National Labs Partnership

December 17, 1993

By Jeffery Kahn, [email protected]

The captains of the American textile industry and their national laboratory partners met at LBL Monday (Dec. 13, 1993) to expand their effort to create new technologies that will allow American firms to compete globally.

Meeting here at the invitation of Engineering Division Director Ed Burgess who is board member of the "AMTEX" partnership, the group's operating committee resolved to fund more ambitious research projects than those now under discussion. These projects would revolutionize and turn around an industry that, though in economic decline, remains a giant. Annual retail sales of textile products amount to $200 billion, making the industry's contribution to the Gross Domestic Product second only to aerospace.

AMTEX also launched a new biotechnology initiative. Research would focus on the genetics of cotton, a plant that accounts for 50 percent of all the fiber used in the U.S. textile industry.

AMTEX is the outgrowth of a May 1992 Critical Technologies Workshop conceived by LBL Director Charles Shank and organized by former LBL Associate Laboratory Director Martha Krebs. Subsequent to that workshop in Berkeley, representatives of the textile industry and DOE formed AMTEX and in March, signed a CRADA. Currently, the CRADA calls for a first year expenditure of about $50 million of DOE and industry match funds with up to $200 million to be invested in research within five years. In FY93, $2 million is earmarked for LBL.

At this week's meeting, Tom Malone, the president and chief operating officer of Milliken and Company (America's largest textile firm) discussed the progress to date. Malone said AMTEX has had unprecedented success in joining together an entire industry. More than 100 firms ranging from those that make apparel to those that provide fiber and manufacture textiles currently are involved.

"We're in motion, we have a good game plan but," said Malone, "it's not good enough. We must have four-to-five-times more firms involved in this if we are going to act quickly enough to help the competitiveness of this industry. All of us know that what we have on the table right now is not big enough to deal with our foreign competitors.

"To change that, we in the industry must identify those things that, if we could do them, would dramatically change the fate of this industry. We might think these technologies are impossible but we cannot let that stop us. By the end of January, we must be able to give our road map, our agenda, to the national labs. It will be up to the labs to tell us how to do the impossible."

The AMTEX CRADA lists five major areas of research: improved materials and processes; demand-activated manufacturing; environmental quality and waste minimization; energy efficiency; and automation. This week, AMTEX took the first step toward funding additional research in biotechnology.

Under the tentative research agenda, a cotton genome map would be developed that would provide a guide for future cotton plant development. Objectives include improving the efficiency of transforming and regenerating a genetic line of cotton, controlling the genetics of fiber and seed development, and improving productivity.

Said Cotton Inc. researcher Dr. Gay Jividen, who put together the industry's research agenda, "A number of us representing the industry have visited the national labs, and we come out of these labs almost dumbstruck. It is almost beyond our capability to appreciate what they can do. Given a chance to work with the labs, we can make a great leap forward, tailor-engineering the fiber itself."