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Researcher Wins Textile Manufacturing Innovation Grant

Dr. Ahmed El-Shafei

The Walmart Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced NC State as one of this year’s Innovation Fund grant recipients for efforts to establish a universal and sustainable commercial fabric dyeing method. This is the third time since the 2014 launch of the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund that researchers from the Wilson College of Textiles have been named recipients.

NC State will receive more than $640,000 from the Walmart Foundation as part of the 2017 round of grants which are focused on innovations in textile manufacturing processes. Dr. Ahmed El-Shafei, an associate professor in the department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science in the Wilson College of Textiles, is the principal investigator on the winning proposal to create a universal and sustainable commercial textile dyeing method that doesn’t use salt or alkali; doesn’t produce effluent; and results in more than 95 percent savings in both energy and water.

“Dr. Ahmed El-Shafei’s innovative project is a most worthy recipient of this grant given its potential to develop substantial gains on numerous fronts: increasing sustainability, creating efficiencies and lowering costs throughout the commercial dyeing process,” said Dr. David Hinks, dean of NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles. “This will aid the competitiveness of the U.S. textile industry. As a college, we appreciate the Walmart Foundation’s continuing support of our researchers as they look to solve some of the textile industry’s most pressing challenges. I look forward to seeing how Dr. El-Shafei’s work can create positive and impactful change.”

As part of this round of grants from the fund, the Walmart Foundation awarded $642,413 to NC State to support El-Shafei’s research, work he says aligns well with the missions of both the Wilson College of Textiles and the Walmart Foundation.

“I’m very excited to receive this grant because it gives me a great opportunity to demonstrate how a single sustainable chemical modification of fibers can lead to innovative and high-quality colored textile products at more affordable prices while saving the environment and creating more new jobs in the United States,” he said.

El-Shafei’s innovative fabric treatment enhances the number of dyes sites throughout a textile fiber, eliminating the need for traditional chemicals such as salt, alkali and acid. Once the fabric is treated, the dye bath is converted into a foam, which has the thickness of a shaving cream, and the foam is applied onto the fabric.

As a result, the fabric used in this chemical connection is fully dyed in a matter of minutes and does not require rinsing, washing or drying. No effluent is produced, and the resulting water and energy savings top 95 percent versus traditional dyeing processes.

“While our dyeing process has shown considerable advancements, we are also working to better determine how we can optimize dye shades and depth of shades, including a deep black,” said El-Shafei.

NC State is one of six universities that will collectively receive nearly $3 million in grants from the Fund to support research proposals that strive to create new manufacturing technologies and reduce the cost of producing goods in the U.S. with the ultimate goal of creating jobs that support America’s growing manufacturing base. The Fund was formed in 2014 to provide a total of $10 million to focus specifically on advancing the production or assembly of consumer products in the U.S. An NC State team was also awarded a grant in 2014 (for implementing new technologies in both fabric printing and cut-and-sew automation) and 2015 (for the school’s innovation in improving textile weaving efficiency).

Like the previous two grant-winning NC State projects, El-Shafei’s Walmart proposal received support from Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.

“It is my hope that the funding of this project by the Walmart Foundation will foster new teaming efforts to bring manufacturing jobs to Raleigh and to provide practical academic experiences for the future employers of the students involved,” she said. “This is an exciting new opportunity to partner with NC State to make Raleigh an even more attractive place to live, work and study.”

Support for the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund is part of Walmart’s larger commitment to help revitalize U.S. manufacturing. In January 2013, Walmart announced a commitment to buy an additional $250 billion in products that support U.S. jobs by 2023.  

“Advancing the production or assembly of consumer products in the U.S. is the number one goal of the Innovation Fund,” said Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation and chief sustainability officer for Walmart. “As these projects come to fruition over the next few years, we hope the research not only enables cost-effective solutions for manufacturers, but also improves the sustainability of the U.S. textile industry.”

For more information on Walmart’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing, please visit