Part 1: Technical textiles are sustainable – what else?

It is simply in the nature of things: technical textiles are one thing if nothing else: they are sustainable. At the end of the day, they always help save energy and conserve resources in one way or another. As the entire world is now looking to save energy and make production processes less harmful to the environment, there can be no halt to the ineluctable success of technical textiles. The declared aim is to create products and production processes that are completely harmless for both people and nature.

Moreover, that is also the aim of the cradle-to-grave principle. One example is to be found in the seats of the giant aeroplane, the Airbus A380, made by Recaro Aircraft Seating, with their entirely bio-degradable seat covers. When their useful life is over, they become nutritional material for cotton plants, from which, in turn, new seat covers are manufactured. A slightly different situation pertains to insulation material in the building trade, which nevertheless makes an important contribution to the reduction of energy consumption and thus to a decrease in CO2 emissions. As far as CO2 emissions are concerned, a reduction of 10 kilograms in the weight of a car can, it is estimated, reduce CO2 emissions by 1 g/km. The Faurecia company has created, in its BioMat project, a spray-formed material with a matrix consisting entirely of organic fibres, which is ousting materials based on mineral oil from the market place. To make their BioMat, polybutylene succinate (PBS) has been combined with hemp-based fibres so as to create a material consisting entirely of natural substances. This patented technology is planned to be used in cars from 2016 and represents an important milestone on the way to using natural materials in the automotive market. BioMat reduces the industry’s dependence on the price of oil and helps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The proportion of recyclable materials in cars will thus increase further and improve the ecological balance. The interior door panels on the VW Golf, of course, are already made of natural fibres, or to put it more accurately, from LignoLite natural fibres (LignoLight from Faurecia uses wood fibres with binding agents based on mineral oil) .

And this brings us to fibres. The fibre industry has, of course, a huge ecological impact on the subsequent stages, standing, as it does, at the very beginning of the process chain. Viscose fibres, based on cellulose and hence on wood, are ecological in their very nature and act as binders for CO2. This, alone, does not amount to sustainability, as Kelheim Fibres, leading manufacturers of viscose fibres, know only too well. In addition, they are insisting on minimum initial use of raw materials, recovery of raw materials from waste water and exhaust air, the use of environmentally acceptable sources of energy and the use of combined heat and power units to provide more than 90% of their primary energy. Sustainability is also the declared aim of finishing specialists, TVU Textilveredlungsunion. Water consumption per kilogram of yarn has been limited by 30%, the energy needed for heating has been reduced by 20% and the amount of electricity consumed has also dropped by 10%. TVU is looking to be the European market leader in terms of sustainability by 2020 and is therefore taking great care, even today, to ensure that the dyes, chemicals and processes it uses are of the highest levels of acceptability in terms of both health and environment.

Technical textiles, in the form of nonwovens, also contribute to the conservation of fresh water, one of our most important resources. Not least when used for filtration and water treatment. German manufacturers of technical textiles are leaders in this field, just as they are in terms of environmental, safety and social standards. To this end, they are counting on the company’s own strategies for sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. Various types of accreditation ensure the necessary confidence among customers and partners. STeP from Oeko-Tex is a relatively young accreditation process, by which brands, wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers in the textile chain are analysed and assessed in terms of the conditions in which they are produced and the use of environmentally friendly technologies and products. The assessment covers the management of chemicals, environmental issues and quality assurance, as well as issues of social responsibility and safety in the workplace. In this assessment, Mattes & Ammann, manufacturers of technical textiles for both the automotive and medical sectors, among others, were accredited by SteP in July 2013 and emerged in the process as the top textile company for sustainability in Germany and the EU trading area. By the end of 2014, the company intends also to put the first products made from the sustainable nettle fibre on the market. They are already working collaboratively with manufacturers of two other natural fibres, spider silk and milk fibre.

So, sustainability has found its way into the fibre industry. But what can we expect from textile printing companies who are known for their high consumption of resources? And how are textile machines coontributing to the topic? Finally, what does the future hold for sustainability? More on that on Monday.

Author: Iris Schlomski

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Iris Schlomski, a Dipl.-Ing.  in clothing technology, has worked as a   self-employed specialist journalist for companies, institutes and editorial departments in the textile and clothing sector since 1992. She has been editor-in-chief of various well-known textile specialist magazines since 2002 and she has been editor-in-chief of the bilingual magazine “textile network” since 2009.

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