Indigo is the beating heart behind a good pair of blue jeans, and what gives them their 'blue'. Natural Indigo has been around since Mesopotamia and its popularity found its way into virtually every culture since. Natural Indigo dye comes from plants grown in the tropics and we all know how that story played out during the Age of Exploration. So it's no surprise that Europeans wanted to find a way to grow, produce and generally just have the dying capabilities without the need to traverse the world. For the most part, their solution was colonialism. It wasn't until the 1870's that a German fellow created the first incarnation of synthetic indigo and thus ending the 200+ years of somewhat barbaric trading and slave labor. This synthetic is the type of Indigo we generally use today in most fabrics. It's not the most caustic thing on the planet by any means, but the process still leaves a lot to be desired. It uses an incredible amount of water, and depending on who is doing the dying, that waist water might not be carefully disposed. This problem is obviously more about the business practices and ethics rather than the Indigo itself, but with our growing global concern about fresh water, it is ever more important the we address these issues and find civilized and responsible solutions.
That is why I was elated to read about this new process being developed for an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to conventional and industrialized Indigo dying. It started as a collaboration between a German company, DyStar and a Swiss company, RedElec. They have developed a process of electromechanical dying that utilizes redox (reduction and oxidation) to achieve the dying process. Evidently, this greatly diminishes the need for as much water, and what they do use, can be easily and safely treated as part of the process, making the environmental impact incredibly small. It sounds like this process is still in the development phases, but both companies seem very optimistic about the potential for large scale use and deployment in the near future. They also appear to be some of the only chemists / engineers biting off a piece of this problem. Here's hoping it all works out.
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