It's not just research--it's a passion

Nawar Kadi
Lives in: Borås
Comes from: Aleppo in Syria Family: Wife and two sons (10 and 14 years old)
Reads: Not so often entire books, but most of the time I jump between different parts of books that I read on the internet. I sometimes read books in Arabic, but I'm trying to learn Swedish.
Preferably: Kibbeh, a typical Aleppo dish with bulgur, onion, and ground meat among other things. But I also like Swedish food, for example salmon.
Leisure interests: Textiles and mechanics. During the war in Syria, I built yarn machines for, among other things, yarn twisting.
Dreams of: Building a new textile factory and having more yarn production in Sweden. And, of course, peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world. End the war!
Hidden talent: No, I'm only good at textiles and mechanics. But many people here are surprised that I know how industrial machines work.
Weakness: My Swedish pronunciation. And sometimes I'm too fast and eager to start things and talk too fast. I should be more thoughtful.
Am happy: When my children and my family are happy and everybody is feeling well.
Gets angry: When dumb people justify stupidity, like war or using weapons. For example, large countries that justify this, claiming they are creating peace.
Favourite textile: Viscose--we need to research more about it, and I have some ideas about how it can be developed. I like cotton too, but it's more limited. Viscose is similar to polyester but can be made entirely of wood and recycled cellulose, for example from cotton. It offers great opportunities for the future. A new material that I also think is exciting is biopolymer. We are looking for more areas of use for it.
Guests at a fictional dinner party: My mom, first of all, as I can't see her in person right now because of visa problems. My brother and the rest of my family and relatives. And my dad, who has unfortunately passed on. He would have been very proud to see my work here.

"Did you know that 60% of the world's textiles consist of plastic materials?" wonders Nawar Kadi when we meet.

"And do you understand the problems this causes in recycling? By the way, there is hardly any recycling of textiles; only one or two percent of all textiles are recycled, and in those cases, largely from the stage before they reach the consumer. After that, some may be reused, for example in second hand stores or sent away as collected charity materials. But 75 percent of our textiles are burned up. Seventy-five percent!"

He continues quickly.

"Certainly there are ideas about producing electricity through the burning of textiles, but consider how much money, water, and electricity are wasted. On average, 2,500 litres of water are used to produce a single cotton t-shirt! Just a simple t-shirt without nothing on it. And then it gets burnt up."

It is important to keep up when Nawar Kadi is talking, because he speaks quickly and passionately about issues close to his heart.

"In Sweden, each person consumes about 14 kg of textile per year, while the world average is about eight kilograms," he continues. “And in these textiles, the proportion of polyester is increasing, as the production of other materials is not so easy to increase. But polyester, that's plastic. The amount of plastic in the oceans is increasing. Microfibres, something you hear a lot about nowadays, come from, among other things, clothes, and they are everywhere. We eat them because they are in the fish we eat. That's why we need better textile production and new methods for recycling textile materials."

He continues, speaking about how we are now in a sustainability revolution. When we have food and stability, we can start to take care of the environment. This is something that can also provide business opportunities for Sweden with new industrial jobs, when we can manufacture our own textiles based on recycled textile materials, according to Nawar Kadi.

He shows me the yarn lab where some students are working on producing new textile fibres made from milk protein. Small machines buzz faintly. The textile material is similar to wool. Nawar Kadi exchanges a few words with the students, looks and touches the milk textile, interested, and says that this project is part of a course in which students will try to develop a new sustainable product.

"In this lab, we also test how we can make different textiles into fibres," he says. "For example, a fabric made of a blend of cotton and polyester. It is torn into pieces and then we try to make new yarn from it. But we need to find ways to obtain longer fibres so that yarn and new fabric can be made. This is achieved through various types of pre-treatments. We have lots of ideas and this is a new area that no one else is working with."

One problem that needs to be solved is how to handle textiles with mixed materials. It is difficult to separate the different materials from each other.

"Even if it says 100 percent cotton, it can be problematic as the seams and labels are often made of polyester and must be separated from the cotton. We have some ideas about how this can be done that are on their way to being patented now. It's a kind of mechanical separation, but for the time being I can't talk in detail about how it works. It may not result in one hundred percent separation, but it is possible to get a material good enough to use the fabric for other purposes, such as paper production."

Nawar Kadi's life is textiles and mechanics. He comes from a textile family in Syria and looks at his work as a pure passion.

"Ideas for new projects can come anytime, often when I'm at home. In the past, I could not control myself, and sometimes I started experimenting at home in the kitchen. For example, heat-treating yarn in the microwave. But after some failed experiments, I now try to keep the concrete research at work--it started to smell so bad at home!"

In order to be able to handle a research problem it is necessary to understand the question; to know in depth what the problem is, he says.

"Problems and challenges are inspiring. Once you understand the problem, you can continue working within your own area or in collaboration with someone in another area."

Ideas for new projects can come at any time.

Collaboration is something very useful for research that is particularly important to Nawar Kadi.

"I participate in many different projects and collaborate in many different ways in many different constellations," he says. “The University of Borås already had a lot going on before I came here, for example in terms of chemical recycling. I focus on mechanical recycling. Much more research is needed, but I think that within 10 years, we can start commercial yarn production in Sweden based on recycled materials. If I get enough funding, it may take three years."

In order to find suitable collaborations in addition to the research group of about ten people he has just started, he reads literature about what others have done, attends conferences, and tries to be open minded to find solutions in other areas that can be translated into his own.

"It's important to have personal contact with other researchers, to talk and discuss. It sows seeds, which can then grow. You have to be both smart and open. Know where you are headed. You can't do so much when you are alone, but collaboration is the key to sustainability. The project in which we are now seeking a patent is a collaboration with a university in the United States."

He also works with collaborations in Sweden. For example, building a test bed for recycling textiles. Or using recycled textiles in interior design.

"In this case, I have entered into existing partnerships with the research institute Swerea IVF. I also work with a polymer research group at the University of Borås in order to, among other things, produce biocomposites of mixed fibres."

Another project that he is involved in has to do with developing paper yarns, so that the structure and feel of it improves and the areas of application increase. There's plenty of paper, and plenty of forests to make paper.

Often, the research projects start with a smaller project that a student is engaged in. If the result is interesting, it gets taken further to higher and higher levels; a project gradually grows if there is potential for it.

We have plenty left to do in the textile field.

We move on to the test lab where things like twisting and tensile strength can be investigated.

"I'm in the lab every single day," says Nawar Kadi. "But most often I'm running through the corridors between the labs."

In this lab, the air is cool; there's a vague murmur of a machine with small plates spinning a piece of fabric round and round to test how much wear the fabric can withstand. The lab maintains an environment of 21 degrees and 62 percent humidity at all times. That is, unless someone changes it, to test other conditions.

Managing doctoral students is part of the work of a professor.

"It's so important how you act as a supervisor, both for doctoral students and in other educational programmes! You must be passionate, generous, and understanding. It is important to find out the characteristics of each person, the strengths and characteristics they have, and then use them in the best way. To give assignments that suit their strengths, but also develop them in the areas they need to develop. It's an exciting job, and a big responsibility. A group working together with a pleasant environment in which everyone's abilities are appreciated--then the group can begin to invent!

In the weaving lab it smells dryly of yarn and a buzzing sound can be heard. Between the big weaving machines there is shelf after shelf of yarns sorted by colour. Almost like a rainbow-coloured background. We watch as a flameproof viscose/woollen fabric is being woven. The flame proofing has been accomplished by adding phosphorus during spinning. Nawar Kadi chats smilingly with the student who works with the weave.

Further down in the lab, there's a whole group of students waiting for him. He has been showing me around so long that he is late for a meeting with them, but everyone is cheerful regardless.

"So, what is it you want to do?" he asks. The students have large carded batts and will needle-felt carded sheets of so-called junk wool, which would otherwise have been burnt, to hopefully make a sound-absorbing textile material.

"Okay, that sounds good!"

With an experienced touch, he adjusts the rollers in the needle-felting machine and switches out the base. The carded batts are put on, water is sprayed on them, and he shows the amount of spread needed.

Dunk, dunk, dunk. The needles go up and down through the carded batts, which are slowly fed through in a felted version in which the fibres are pressed together. Perhaps it is possible to create a useful textile product from these residual products.

My goal is that our work will give something back to society and to the environment.

Nawar Kadi's vision
for the future is a more sustainable society.

"We have a lot left to do in the textile area," he says. In smart textiles, in recycling methods, and when it comes to industry. My goal is that our work will give something back to society and to the environment. Both in terms of jobs creation and a sustainable environment.

He is optimistic about future prospects and thinks it goes without saying to believe in one's own ability. He has many ideas for creating a more sustainable society with a focus on textiles.

"I think we should introduce a deposit-refund system for textiles so that they can be recycled or reused to a greater extent. And then we will invest more in developing new fibres based on previously unexplored materials, such as paper, milk protein, and biocomposite. There is a lot to do there."

He continues:

"We will also build a new industry that manufactures yarn from recycled materials--we can do that within the not too distant future. And we must continue to educate fashion design students about fibres and the environment, just as it is done at the University of Borås; they need knowledge to make the right choices from the beginning of the design process so that recycling is facilitated. Development continues and we are all part of it."

Text Lena M Fredriksson
Photo: Suss Wilén
Translation: Eva Medin

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