Austrian Scientists & Scholars
in North America

On the life cycle of microfibers from textiles - Research efforts between California, Austria, and beyond


Dimitri Deheyn, PhD., Research Scientist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego; Scientific Advisor and Board Member, The Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans.


Microfibers are increasingly found all around us, in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. Despite this prevailing omnipresence, not much is known about the “life cycle” of microfibers. Here, this presentation will outline the status of knowledge about microfibers, from their production from clothing to their functionalization with additives, their distribution across ecosystems (from pristine environments such as Altaussee in Austria, to metropolitan cities around the world), and their fate in specific environments. The presentation will also outline the missing pieces that would help provide a more comprehensive understanding of microfibers. These includes the limited coordination between researchers focusing on this topic, the lack of standard protocols, and the need for better technologies to identify, quantify and/or capture microfibers, to only name a few.

On a broader scale, the presentation will highlight working with industry such as Lenzing in Austria to provide alternatives materials to synthetic fibers. The concept around synthetic versus natural microfibers will be discussed in this context, underlining the need to better define the word “plastic”. Although focusing on the chemical processing to make the material, the definition of plastic would benefit from a deeper consideration of the biodegradability of the material over time where it ends up accumulating. Clearly the longer a material is used, the more durable it is, and the longer one can expect it to biodegrade back into molecular (usable) carbon. Ultimately, adopting such concepts as a society would help policy makers better manage this global crisis around microplastics.


Dimitri Deheyn is a Research Scientist at the Marine Biology Research Division of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego. There, he conducts cross-disciplinary research on biomimicry, which is the science of learning from Nature to develop new processes and biomaterials that are more sustainable and supporting circularity in society. Of particular interest to this seminar, Deheyn studies emerging pollutants, which includes plastics, textile microfibers and associated additives. Some key steps of his studies include assessing plastic and fiber biodegradation (from both natural and synthetic fibers, untreated and treated with additives). His research has a global perspective, looking at microfibers from high mountains in Altaussee (Austria) to the bottom of the ocean, from lakes, rivers, lagoons, and coastal ocean waters, but also from snow, rain and atmosphere, around the world. Here, Deheyn will briefly describe the life and death of microfibers from clothing and textile waste, and will update current research on the circularity of fashion in Austria, but also in Ghana and California.

Deheyn grew up in Africa and South America, and completed his PhD in Belgium where he started his academic career. His inter-continental past makes him have a global perspective of environmental issues. Consequently, his work today aims at understanding and protecting ecosystems that are critical to support the healthy future of our societies, considering the growing threat of increasing environmental challenges… climate change and plastics being two important ones.

Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans

Date & Time

December 19th, 2023, 11AM Pacific / 2PM Eastern / 19h UK Time / 20h MEZ


Zoom link will be provided after registration on the online event page (click “Access the event”).


ASciNA Chapter Pacific South

A recording of this talk has been published on our YouTube channel at

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