Innovation Exchange challenge: Alternative drying processes for textile production

The Natural Fibre Company wishes to engage innovators to find a more energy efficient drying solution that could replace the use of commercial dryers.

Opportunity Details


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Shortlisted applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch their solution. The final successful applicant will deliver a feasibility study or proof-of-concept trial to demonstrate the benefits of a solution. The project team will receive a £25,000 grant award, to be apportioned between The Natural Fibre Company and the successful applicant, as agreed on a bilateral basis.

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The Natural Fibre Company (NFC) is a British wool spinner, located in Launceston, Cornwall in the South West of England. The company is expert in fibre processing, adding value to fleece, and working with Wool, Alpaca and Mohair amongst other types of natural fibres and materials.

NFC services include scouring, carding, Woollen and Worsted Spinning, and finishing and these processes take place at its mill, which is efficient and designed to keep its carbon footprint to a minimum.

NFC handles each order of incoming fibre separately so its customers can be assured that only their fibre is returned to them. NFC also offers Organically Certified Processing every two years in line with its accreditation from the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). As well as handling wool for customers, NFC works with a range of natural fibres such as Silk, Linen and Bamboo and some less familiar and alternative materials as part of its inhouse testing facility.

Wool Scouring at NFC

The process of wool scouring is undertaken to remove grease and other debris from raw wool after it has arrived from the farm. The raw fleece is fed into a hopper and goes through a series of tanks, rotated by paddles and forks. The fleece is washed in water, a wetting agent and organic soap which is GOTS approved, in different bowls at 68C and 65C. This removes any waste products and then it is rinsed and pressed to remove any excess water and the waste ‘liquor’. It is then bagged and then placed into commercial dryers in batches to dry the material thoroughly before proceeding to its next phase of blending.

Water consumption and drying processes

The overall scouring process is centuries old and is quite energy and water inefficient. Water is non-recyclable currently and must be collected from a 3000-gallon tank in the NFC facility yard, creating a large recurring cost for NFC. NFC has engaged the University of Plymouth to undertake a chemical analysis of wastewater and liquor, although this has not yet yielded any commercial outputs.

The drying process is a major constraint on company growth because throughput of wool is limited significantly by the time taken to undertake drying.

Currently, NFC use Nyberg 75T commercial tumble dryers to dry each 10-15kg batch for 5-10 minutes each, which it understands is an unacceptable and inefficient way to dry the wool. NFC seeks an alternative drying process or product, such as an in-line drying machine, which can make the drying process more efficient. Improving the drying process would unlock significant capacity increases for the NFC facility.

NFC also welcomes proposals that seek to improve the overall scouring process. For example, non-aqueous scouring solutions or water recycling methods.

For functional details, technical requirements and more, visit the link below.


Entrants to this competition must:

  • Be SMEs or individual entrepreneurs
  • Be UK based or have the intention to set up a UK base
  • Have not exceeded its Minimum Financial Assistance limit (or De Minimis, where relevant)

Rewards & Benefits

Shortlisted applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to NFC. The final winning solution provider will receive:

  • A portion of a £25,000 grant award to work with NFC on delivery of a feasibility study or proof-of-concept trial (exact terms and funding amount to be agreed between NFC and the winning solution provider)
  • Support from KTN, if it is required
  • Invitations to attend or present at KTN events
  • Investor introductions, if required
  • Support if any Innovate UK or similar competitions are relevant.

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