Viscose is a viscous organic liquid used in the manufacture of rayon. Rayon is called viscose in Europe. Cellulose, produced from wood or cotton fibres, is treated with sodium hydroxide, and then mixed with carbon disulphide to form cellulose xanthate, which is then dissolved in more sodium hydroxide. The resulting viscose is extruded in an acid bath either through a slot for making cellophane, or through a small hole for making rayon (sometimes also called viscose). The acid converts the viscose back into cellulose.

Cellulose is treated with an alkali and carbon disulfide to form viscose.
Viscose was created in Échirolles (Isère, France) in 1884 by the French scientist and industrialist Hilaire de Chardonnet (1838-1924), inventor of the first artificial textile fibre (“artificial silk”). The manufacturing process was then patented by three British scientists, Charles Frederick Cross, Edward John Bevan and Clayton Beadle, in 1891.

 

 

Industrial applications

The first use of viscose was for coating fabrics, for which it was quite appropriate. However, when Cross and his colleagues tried to make solid objects such as umbrella handles, they found it too fragile.

The subsequent development of viscose technology led to the production of yarns for embroidery and decoration. Finally, with the incorporation of Samuel Courtauld & Co. into the business in 1904, viscose manufacturing became important. By the 1920s and 1930s it had almost completely replaced the traditional use of cotton for the manufacture of stockings and women’s underwear. Similar changes occurred in Europe and the United States. It was also used for linings and coatings, as a structural material for towels and tablecloths, and in the form of high-tenacity yarns for use in car wheel covers. Other uses were the manufacture of absorbent sponges and rags.

The manufacture of viscose films was attempted by Cross in the 1890s, but success was finally achieved by the Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger working in Switzerland and France. Around 1913 the French company Comptoir des Textiles Artificiels (C.T.A.) founded La Cellophane SA. Branderberger sold his patents to La Cellophane and joined it. Ten years later DuPont Cellophane Co. was established in the United States and in 1935 British Cellophane Ltd was established in Bridgwater, Somerset. In the early 1940’s it was established in Spain, in Burgos, under the name of La Cellophane Española S.A. The company was officially inaugurated in 1949.

The use of viscose became less and less common, due to the polluting effects of carbon disulfide and other by-products of the process, which forced the closure of the Bridgwater factory in 2005.