Finnish researchers are attempting to convert autumn leaves into natural textile dyes

The natural tones of autumn leaves might shortly be arriving to the textile industry. A team of investigators from VTT Technical Research Centre in Espoo, Finland, is working on capturing the orange and yellow carotenoids and red anthocyanin that “paint” the leaves in the fall, in order to better utilize fallen leaves before they decay during winter. 

“There is a rapidly-growing need for natural pigments in various industries around the world – for example, these natural pigments could be used as nutraceuticals, nutritional products that allegedly have a therapeutic effect,” explained the researchers in a statement. 

The VTT's I&D center developed a process in which the fallen leaves are collected, dried and ground and later extracted int the necessary components. The chemical composition of the leaves varies greatly among different species of trees.  

The investigation has already entered a test-pilot phase, using leaves collected from the Finnish region of Otaniemi. The investigative team states that the methods they’ve developed so far are applicable to various industries, including textile manufacturing. 

Until now, fallen autumnal leaves have had little use. They were left on the ground, used in compost or burned, resulting in full landfills or a rise in carbon dioxide, the researchers say. “In our experience in the lab, we’ve discovered various promising alternative forms of using the leaves,” says Liisa Nohynek, senior researcher for VTT. “We’re in the test-pilot phase, in which we’re examining how our methods can be put to practical use and what quantities of compounds can be extracted from the leaves,” she said. 

Translated by Emily Jensen