Inventor turns discarded coconut shells into energy saving material

6:16 AM, Oct 23, 2009   |    comments
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It may sound crazy, but Boulder-based Cocona actually uses carbon from left over coconut shells in clothing products. The company started in 2000, when the company's founder began looking for ways to utilize activated carbon to adsorb chemical agents, so it wouldn't come in contact with the users' skin as part of a chemical defense project. That process turned out to be too messy, so Dr. Gregory Haggquist began looking for a way to use the carbon to limit smells in sweaty clothing.

As part of the process, he used tiny bits of coconut carbon, which are too small to be used by companies that create water filtration units, and looked for a way to combine the molecules with yarn and thread.

"The aha moment was the methodology was how to put these particles into yarn so they stay in there permanently and still have the added functionality we're looking for," Haggquist explained.

Under a microscope it is possible to see the carbon particles clinging to the polymer thread, but it's also possible to spot in jackets, shirts and other products made with Cocona material.

"The technology is a darker color, when it's the Cocona based product. It is generally on the inside, because we want the yarn to interact with the skin or the body," Haggquist said.

Creating this patented process was not the company's biggest discovery, however. As Cocona began to test the product, it realized products with the activated carbon could do much more than hide odors.

"When we started putting it on people and what we found was the odor is nice, but this stuff really dries fast. It's drying rate is comparable to your sweating rate, so it's able to keep up with you," Haggquist said.

As it turns out, the additional carbon in the clothing adds more surface area. The moisture is able to spread out among the carbon's pores and evaporate more quickly.

Unlike products that spray performance additives on the surface of the clothing, Cocona says its product gets better with washing and drying.

"As you're washing and renewing it, and refreshing it, you're actually improving the performance features of it," Haggquist explained.

The best part is that each of the features Cocona provides to a piece of clothing makes it greener too. Cocona products require less time in the dryer because of their quick drying properties and needs less washing because of its ability to absorb odors.

These extras also mean a higher cost.

"Anytime you add more technology, when you add in more materials, you add cost," Haggquist said.

He says the company works hard to find products that can support this upgrade, without raising the price too much for consumers.

Cocona can be found in clothing made by more than sixty manufacturers, including Colorado companies like Pearl Izumi, Sierra Designs, GoLite and Skirt Sports.

Cocona was one of the 50 businesses selected by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade as Colorado Companies to Watch. Every Friday 9NEWS is reporting about another company, highlighting its success in this difficult economy. CLICK HERE to see those stories.

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