Sustainability Imperatives Drive Textile Innovation

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Sustainability in textile development and manufacturing is an ongoing conversation, much of it revolving around processes that conserve energy, water and natural resources. But beyond manufacturing processes, sustainability issues are driving true technical innovation, resulting in new products offering a host of advantages.

Replacing PFCs in DWRs
The search for alternatives to perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) such as PFOA and PFOS (used to render textiles durably water and stain repellent have been front and center, primarily in the apparel , carpet and upholstery, and outdoor sectors. Loudly condemned by NGO and sustainability campaigner Greenpeace, and subsequently by various government organizations, PFCs persist in the environment and bio-accumulate in animals and humans, creating a number of health issues.

The European Union has banned the use of PFOS, and is considering a restriction on PFOA. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) negotiated with the chemical companies who produced them to phase out PFOA by 2015. As a result, textile and chemical companies have been forced to innovate sustainable, water or bio-based DWR finishes such as Chemours™ Teflon Eco-Elite™, Sciessent CURB™, Huntsman PHOBOTEX®, Schoeller® Technologies ecorepel®, HeiQ Eco Dry, and Bolger & O’Hearn’s Altopel F3®.

Based in Fall River, Massachusetts, Bolger & O’Hearn developed Altopel F3 some time ago, but felt that testing with the Hohenstein institute would add legitimacy to the product, which is now being launched via textile marketing group Concept III. “Sustainability is inspiring us to take a closer look at our raw materials and supply chain,” says Shawn Honeycutt, Bolger & O’Hearn sales manager. “We think we have the best performing product in the market.”

The PFC-free alternatives generally impart a softer hand to textile products, and repel water-based stains; but unlike PFC-based finishes, they do not have the ability to repel oil-based dirt and stains. As a result, some manufacturers of high-performance outdoor gear, such as Patagonia and W.L. Gore & Associates, are funding additional research. Patagonia has invested in a Swiss company, Beyond Surface Technologies, which is working to develop better chemistries for outdoor apparel; the Gore Enterprise is putting $15 million into researching non-PFC materials. The first non-PFC Gore-Tex products should be available in 2018.

At Chemours, “The story is moving towards stain management,” says Gerald Brown, the company’s principal investigator for textiles R&D. “Our customer is asking for it, and we feel we are making strides towards that end.”

Improving on nature

The Greenpeace DETOX campaign pushed for a change in the chemistry behind durable water repellency. The textile industry has been a significant player in this effort, developing new PFC-free products for garments and other markets.

While many proponents of sustainable textiles maintain that you can’t beat Mother Nature, the truth is that innovative synthetic materials are being engineered with better green credentials. Nonwoven wipes are an example. The market for single-use, personal care wipes (generally made from polyester) reached $8.2 billion in 2013, according to Euromonitor International, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 3 percent through 2018.

While most wipes are not flushable, ending up in landfills, consumers are demanding the convenience of a flushable wipe. A large proportion of wipes are flushed anyway, much to the dismay of municipalities who must deal with the problem of blocked sewers.

The industry is developing new requirements for flushable wipes, and some manufacturers have turned to cellulosic fibers, which can be more easily biodegraded. But according to Bynum Poole, president of the Greenville, South Carolina-based Poole Co., a leading distributor of polyester fibers for the nonwovens industry, cellulosic nonwovens are more expensive and more difficult to process than polyester.

Like many polyester suppliers, the company offers post-consumer recycled fibers, via their EcoSure® brand. Last year the company took the process a step further with the development of EcoSure® BioBlast™, a biodegradable fiber made from 100 percent recycled PET bottles, shown to biodegrade 12 times faster over a year in landfill conditions than traditional polyester fibers.

While biodegradable is not the same as flushable, it is perhaps a step in the right direction. According to Poole, the product could be tweaked to biodegrade faster to meet the needs of a brand partner. “The nonwovens ship turns around slowly,” he confessed. “But we have a lot of interest and ongoing trials.”

EcoSure BioBlast fibers are also seeing interest from outdoor apparel and sock brands, as well as the automotive industry, Poole says.

The textile industry is also taking a closer look at the sustainability story being told by bio-based fibers such as DuPont™ Sorona®, which has been around for more than a decade. Given the generic “triexta,” Sorona is a type of polytrimethyl terephthalate (PTT) containing 37% Bio-PDO™ (bio-based 1,3 propanediol), made by fermenting glucose from corn.

“We’ve never really told our story,” says John Sagrati, global segment leader for Sorona carpet. “Sorona is more like a natural fiber; it comes from fermentation. Think of us as a natural fiber, with the same softness as cashmere or silk; and great natural springiness. The magic is in designing from nature forward, instead of being ‘just like’ other synthetics in the market.”

Bio-PDO™ (bio-based 1,3 propanediol) contains three carbons, and nature is filled with three-carbon and six-carbon forms. “People are beginning to understand the concept of ‘biomimicry’,” says Renee Henze, global marketing manager for Sorona.

Because those carbons are impervious to stains and odor, Sorona has seen its greatest success in carpeting. Sagrati pointed out that soft, resilient Sorona carpet fibers don’t require coating with silicone softeners or stain-resistant finishes (read: no PFCs). “It doesn’t look or feel synthetic; there’s no extra stuff on it,” he said. “And moths won’t eat Sorona.”

The Sorona technical team is also working closely with carpet mills to develop new blends that take advantage of the fiber’s softness, and to engineer latex-free backings, further reducing the product’s environmental footprint.

The latest use for sustainable Sorona fibers is in makeup brushes, where it replaces natural animal hair. Sorona’s softness and stain-resistant qualities are also attracting the high-end automobile industry, where “glowing” light-colored interiors are trending, according to Sagrati.

Creatively applying recycling

The proliferation of closed-loop textile systems that keep textile waste out of the landfill is creating a host of recycled yarns and materials that can be used to make new textiles, primarily for apparel and industrial end uses such as insulation, batting and bedding. But recycled and sustainable materials are also being used to engineer highly technical products.

Leaders in this area are Leigh Delaware Holdings, the parent company of South Carolina-based Leigh Fibers, a processor and trader of recycled fibers, and ICE Recycling, which reprocesses polymers, cardboard and metal. Leigh recently announced the formation of a third sister company, SmartVista™, to focus on the development of new products and technologies from these materials for a variety of industries.

SmartVista’s first product, called SPILLARMOR™ – RDS100, is a lightweight, self-contained emergency response unit designed to rapidly absorb hydrocarbon spills.

“SmartVista will continue developing customer focused technologies for a wide array of industries where sustainable solutions may not currently be available,” says Mariel McAllister, director of public relations for the three companies. Through sustainable engineering, Leigh Fibers has diverted morethan 14 billion pounds of textile waste and byproducts from landfills.

There are dozens of sustainability-driven innovations currently in development in the world of textiles, from synthetic spider silk and fibers spun from oceanic plastic waste, to eco-alternatives to spandex, dyes and printing inks, goose down, building materials, or geo-synthetics. Indeed, one could argue that sustainable imperatives are perhaps the greatest driver of textile innovation today, giving product developers the opportunity to not only make textiles more sustainable—but to create something new and different in the process.

*This story first appeared on Advanced Textile Source

Naturally Brilliant

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If nature has figured out a pretty good way to do something, it would make sense to try and copy it, right?

Lizards that change color for camouflage … moisture that beads up and rolls right off a lotus leaf … the aerodynamics of a humpback whale, pirouetting under water … tree frogs that climb a smooth, vertical surface.

Areas as diverse as transportation, energy, communication, medicine, agriculture and architecture are all finding useful innovations based in the natural world that will improve the way we solve problems and create new products—including textiles.

In his article, “Biomimetics and biotextiles,” Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar points out examples of research that could change the way we think about stain-repellant treatments, insect repellency, antibacterials and other performance qualities desirable in many textiles. And these are just some of the developments.

The Biomimicry Institute, based in Missoula, Mont., uses this definition. “Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.”

Notice that word “sustainable.” The beauty of emulating nature’s own magic is that the solutions are so often more sustainable than the ones we’ve been using, and if, in particular, it involves an organic material readily available, it’s likely to be very economical, as well.

So if all this is the case, why isn’t this just the way we do things?

Well, first we had to figure out how that tree frog could so easily adhere to a vertical surface—while sleeping. Then we had to figure out the structure of the frog’s foot pads so we could figure out a way to make them to people scale. Then we had to get the backing to commercialize it, the legal support to patent it, never mind the approval of whatever government agency is applicable. Something like that.

Still, it is happening, and it’s happening at a quicker pace because of cost and sustainability issues. The interest in tree frogs’ mind-boggling climbing ability is relatively old news in this field. In fact, the science behind all sorts of flora and fauna is prompting research and innovations that could impact so many facets of our lives. Textiles, which can be engineered in almost limitless ways, are figuring into the picture.

Some examples …

Have you heard about earthworm-inspired filtration for healthier soil? University students in Oregon figured this one out.

Scientists discovered that the Galapogos Shark had no bacteria on its skin. Sharklet Technologies took this research and turned it into “Sharkskin” wound dressing, designed particularly for battlefield wounds, to speed healing and reduce patient discomfort, and other bacteria-repelling products.

Though not precisely “biomimicry,” the Watercube at the Beijing Olympics copied the structure of soap bubbles to create a facility that was earthquake resistant, gathered solar energy to heat the pool, and naturally shed the city’s dust and smog grime when it rained.

There’s an example “closer to home, too; how would we ever get along without Velcro®?

*This story first appeared on Advanced Textiles Source


Biomimetics and Biotextiles

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Imitating Nature Offers Sustainable Choices in New Textiles

Nature provides the inspiration for many innovations, including in the field of textiles. Some efforts, however, are quite specific in imitating nature. In fact, an entire field of science has blossomed under the name “biomimetics,” a term first coined in 1969 by Dr. Otto Schmitt, who spent much of his career as a professor and researcher at the University of Minnesota. Since then, the field has grown with many commercially successful products such as the Nanotex technology. Biomimicry has enabled the development of functional finishes, soft materials, textile technologies, binders and other products.

Dr. R. Prabha, assistant professor at the Avinashilingam Institute, India, has extracted flavonoids from natural products such as phyllanthus niruri leaves to make cotton fabrics naturally repellent to mosquitoes. Photo: Dr. R. Prabha.

What is Biomimetics?

As Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” Biomimetics is all about observing and trying to mimic nature in order to develop value-added finishes and products, such as water-repellant coatings and improved adhesives, as examples. Biomimicry involves understanding how nature adapts and borrowing those underlying principles to develop value-added and functional products and processes.

Many discoveries and inventions in physical, engineering and biological sciences have stemmed from observing nature. Biologist Osamu Shimomura, who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry discovered the green fluorescent protein (GFP) in jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, which is an important biological tool these days, supporting research in cancer and HIV, for instance.

Bioinspired Nanotechnology

There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between biomimetics and nanoscience. One of the early commercial successes with the application of nanoscience in textiles was based on bio-inspiration.

In 1998, Nanotex was founded based on the inspiration from nature in repelling water from a surface. This technology copied nature’s process using nanotechnology. Nano molecules bonded to textiles provided an efficient stain-repellant mechanism that resulted in magic stain removals, which caught the attention of retail brands and consumers. Today, Nanotex is part of Crypton Inc., and the nature-inspired Nanotex technologies are used in over 100 brands around the world.

Since the late 1980s, there have been tremendous efforts globally to develop nanofibers for a variety of applications from filtration to tissue scaffolds. As nanofibers are submicron-sized fibers, they provide high surface area. Also, additional characteristics that mimic nature, such as three-dimensional (3-D) structures and self-assembly, are important for using nanofibers for growing cells.

According to biotechnologist, Dr. Uday Turaga of Texas Tech University, “Everything inside the body is three dimensional and at macromolecular level, the extra cellular matrix is 3-D and nanofibers simulate the 3-D structure, which cells face in vivo.”

Despite the established protocols associated with growing cells on petri dishes, which are two dimensional (2-D), Turaga says these 2-D structures do not mimic the condition in vivo. In these circumstances, nanofiber meshes provide practical advantages. Turaga has been working extensively in the recent past to develop environmentally friendly nanowebs using biocompatible polymers such as ploy (vinyl alcohol).

These nanowebs are functionalized with natural antimicrobial products (for example, honey!) for developing value-added products such as wound dressings. Poly (vinyl alcohol) bandages with safe antiseptics, such polyhexamethylene biguanides, showed excellent antibacterial efficacies against Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, according to Turaga.

The Growth of Biotextiles

Dr. R. Prabha is researching the use of natural herbs, such as vetiveria zizanioides, to impart functional characteristics into textiles. Photo: Dr. R. Prabha

The field of using natural products to impart functionality to textiles is growing. This field can be conveniently called “biotextiles.” Coimbatore, India-based Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women (Avinashilingam Institute) has been a pioneer in the field of biotextiles. Professor Vasugi Raaja, Dean of Home Science at the institute says that the institute is one-of-a-kind in offering a post-graduate course in biotextiles. The program began accepting students in 2005. Courses in the program focus on the theoretically practical aspects of utilizing natural products’ chemistry, such as enzymes and herbs, to impart functionalities to textiles. For more than a decade this institute has worked on interesting projects says Dr. Kalaiarasi, assistant professor of biotextiles. Amylase enzymes were isolated from bacterial and fungal species such as Bacillus cereus and Aspergillus. Papaya leaves have been used to extract protease enzymes, which can be used for degumming silk. Natural byproducts are used for effluent treatments, such as the decolorization of reactive dyes.

The textile dyeing and finishing industry would definitely benefit from such environmentally benign treatment technologies. Natural dyes are developed from natural products using ultrasonic processes, so that extraction becomes efficient. Dr. Prabha, assistant professor at Avinashilingam Institute, who has undertaken her dissertation research on using natural herbs to impart antimicrobial characteristics to textiles, says that the raw material is cost effective, so if the processes are optimized, these alternative treatments will be environmentally friendly and commercially viable.

Her project extracted flavonoids from natural products, such as Vetiveria zizanioides roots andPhyllanthus niruri leaves to impart mosquito repellency to cotton fabrics. In addition to utilizing natural products, the project utilized emerging environmentally benign processes such as plasma to improve the process efficiency and the durability of treatments.

The Watch List

A team of multidisciplinary researchers at Stanford University, Calif., has developed a skin-like fabric that cools the body more efficiently. The use of nanoporous polyethylene fabric resulted in the lowering of skin temperature by about 2.7 degrees Centigrade when compared with another commonly used next-to-skin fabric. According to Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science at Stanford, the fabric effectively cools the person, which makes cooling the building unnecessary, thereby saving energy.

Scientists at Uppsala University, Sweden, in collaboration with German virologists have developed cellulose nanofiber sheets to remove viruses from water. Nanocellulose filter paper, termed mille-feuille filter because they have a layered structure resembling the French pastry mille-feuille, will be able to remove even small-sized viruses. These new, structured nanocellulose sheets are affordable filters that not only can remove viruses but also can have long life, according to Uppsala University. Compared to tea bag kind of cellulose filter, these French pastry-like filters have pore structures that can filter viruses that are normally resistant to physical and chemical countermeasure processes.

The Uppsala team, led by professor Albert Mihranyan, collaborated with virologists from Charles River Biopharmaceutical Services, Cologne, Germany. According to Mihranyan, their goal is to develop filter paper that can remove viruses from water as easily as brewing coffee.

Another team of scientists and students at Imperial College, London, has engineered bacteria found in green tea to produce cellulose that can find applications in filtration and the textile industry. The team has developed DNA tools to engineer a specific strain of bacteria found in fermented green tea to produce modified bacterial cellulose. This technique also enables incorporating proteins and other biomolecules into the bacteria.

Among many potential applications, protein-incorporated bacterial cellulose filters can be used to target contaminants in water supplies. An interesting application is the development of sensors using cellulose material that can detect biotoxins based on color change.

What’s Next?

Biomimetic textiles are an exciting and emerging field within the high-performance and functional textiles category, and as an interdisciplinary field, it deserves due attention from the smart fabrics sector, as well.

With the need to use environmentally friendly products and processes, drawing inspiration from nature is indeed a good idea to develop products, such as waterproof materials, nature-inspired biocidal substrates and biomimetic adhesives.

As it is clear from the commercial successes of products such as Nanotex, technology, practical applicability and cost have to work in harmony to achieve this. Dr. Prabha of Coimbatore echoes this premise; in the case of natural products, they can be cheaper if they are available adequately, such as those she had used in India.

In addition to the cost advantages of using natural products, other important aspects are product durability and applicability. The ease of adapting nature’s ways and the durability of bioinspired products pose definite challenges for the next-generation textile industry, whether the field is biomimetic textiles, wearable textiles or some other market area.

*This story first appeared on Advanced Textile Source

What does a zero-waste, biomimetic textile factory look like?

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Morarjee Textiles constructing zero-waste textile factory with biomimetic design

Exploration Architecture, a UK based company that specializes in biomimicry, has completed its design for a sustainable factory in Nagpur, India, that aims to address both the human and environmental challenges facing the country’s textile industry. The innovative building should radically reduce energy and water usage, and the design team’s goal is to create a zero-waste factory that is also an inspiring environment in which to work. Exploration’s client – Morarjee Textiles which works almost exclusively in high quality cotton for overseas markets with a significant proportion of the output being either printed and dyed – is a pioneer of sustainable thinking and challenged the architects to change the paradigm for factories in India.

Solving human problems with inspiration from nature is known as biomimicry. For the design of this zero waste textiles factory, located in India, Exploration Architecture was charged with the hefty task of revolutionizing the factory experience for workers. “The structure should be designed and engineered to use the least material possible and should provide a world-class environment for the 600-odd people who will work at the factory… and be a viable, sustainable and profitable business.” This was the vision given to the Exploration Team by Harsh Piramal, Executive Vice Chairman, Morarjee Textiles Ltd. Since textiles are a water and power intensive industry, it makes the project all the more difficult because the company’s aim is to channel all waste into a circular or closed-loop system, in order to get as close to zero waste as possible.

“The structure should be designed and engineered to use the least material possible and should provide a world-class environment for the 600-odd people who will work at the factory… and be a viable, sustainable and profitable business.”

Determined to create a zerowaste factory, Morarjee Textiles went in search of a partner who could give life to the dream project. “I tried to find an architect in India that could design what I envisaged and came to the conclusion that I would need to look internationally. In fact, I only found two firms globally that I felt really understood closed-loop design and one of these was Exploration Architecture. A friend of mine who edits a design magazine, actually gave me a copy of Michael Pawlyn’s book Biomimicry in Architecture and it was this that convinced me of their specialist skills,” says Harsh on the inspiration for the project.

The closed-loop system adapted by Exploration for the project impacts on the development in a number of ways. The key drivers for the design of the building (including the materials) were to create the best conditions for people working in the building, maximize the production of renewable energy and minimize the use of physical resources. Michael Pawlyn, Director of Exploration Architecture and his team were selected for this project because of their world renowned expertise in biomimicry and designing for zero waste. “While conventional industrial systems tend to be simple, linear and wasteful – employing long-term toxins – biological systems are generally complex, interconnected, and have closed loop flows of resources that don’t cause long-term damage to the environment,” explains Pawlyn, inspired by the work of Janine Benyus, who has authored six books on biomimicry, the Exploration team used biomimicry as a tool with which to rethink the textile process and devise solutions that should provide for long-term value creation.

When Exploration Architecture set out to design a zero-waste textiles factory for Morarjee Textiles, they looked to biomimicry – the practice of solving human problems with inspiration from nature – for answers. By doing so, the team was able to conceptualize a design that achieved the client’s goal of meeting both human and environmental guidelines with a structure that radically reduces waste in the resource intensive production of textiles. The final plan revolutionizes the factory experience for workers within a sustainable, zero-waste building.

For the building itself the team took inspiration from examples of hierarchical structures in biology such as the Euplectella glass sponge, which has informed the design of the primary structure (steel columns and trusses). In addition, a strict north-south orientation for the building has been chosen, allowing for roof-lights with glazing facing north providing generous amounts of natural light throughout the working environment while the sloping solid surfaces of the roof-lights are perfectly oriented for photovoltaic panels.

After careful consideration, the design team concluded that profiled aluminium was the most appropriate roofing material because it is very light in weight, producing knock-on savings in the weight of the primary structure. It is also fully recyclable and maintains optimum water quality for the rainwater that is captured from the roof surface, for use in the highly water-intensive textile processes. “We know from our work on ecosystem models that it is possible to get to zero waste and we have enjoyed the challenge of pursuing that goal,” adds Pawlyn. As with many areas of commerce, the textile industry is faced with near term increases in energy and commodities costs as well as steadily increasing levels of environmental compliance. By creating a low energy operation that approaches zero waste, Morarjee Textiles aims to meet the growing expectations from their supply chain and ensure long-term profitability.

  • The interior shot of the zero-waste Morarjee Textiles factory coming up in Nagpur, and which is the first of its kind in India

Exploration recommended the company to appoint biologists and chemists to work with a design team to look at the latest developments in sustainable processing, since Morarjee Textiles was keen to produce a range of unbleached organic cotton, and even hemp fibre, products. “At the moment we have not received sufficient market demand to justify the kind of quantities that we produce. Bleaching is still part of the process and it has proved to be very difficult to fully mitigate the negative effects of this,” shares Harsh.

Project Associate Yaniv Peer further adds, “There are a number of functional challenges that we are seeking to address in this project including minimising energy consumption, increasing resource efficiency, eliminating waste production through closed loop models of consumption and creating a great working environment with generous amounts of daylight and views out to nature. When completed this building will act as a shining example of how ecosystems thinking can radically reduce the textiles industry’s impact on the environment whilst improving the company’s bottom line.”

Morarjee Textiles Ltd. is a leading global player in premium cotton shirting fabric and high fashion printed fabric. The company’s consumer base spans 44 countries, including international brands such as ZARA, Esprit, Hugo Boss, Next, to name a few.

Morajee Textiles recognizes that the future is in sustainable growth. In an interview to Apparel Online earlier this year, the company had hinted at the project, sharing that its new factory that’s coming up in Nagpur is solar ready, working on zero discharge of hazardous chemicals and stressing on the health and livelihoods of workers in factories. “We want to be a meaningful and responsible player,” emphasized R K Rewari, Managing Director, Morarjee Textiles.

Building on the thought Harsh adds, “Sustainability is the need of the hour, not because large retail chains and brands and consumers are now demanding it but also, because increasingly it is becoming a winning business proposition. Following sustainable practices, even though involving extra initial capital expenditure, beside the business running costs right from day one.”

Michael Pawlyn, Director, Exploration Architecture

Morarjee Textiles management recognizes and accepts that while some of the design measures have a very short payback period, others (such as the biomass co-generation and the full day lighting instead of electric lighting) have a payback period of six years. After the payback period, the company expects to be more profitable than its competitors and wants to invest profits in expanding the facilities further. The company also supports a number of charities, including a tiger reserve. One of the biggest benefits it anticipates from taking a leadership approach is that it will become more resilient in anticipation of ever tightening environmental regulations and increasing utility costs.”We are now deep into the implementation of the project and very happy with the way the factory is shaping up,” concluded Harsh.

**This story first appeared on Apparel Online here.