(Source: MM, dfv media group)
The global nonwovens industry is currently in an exciting phase of its evolution after playing a substantial role in the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic with its wide portfolio of essential products for personal protection, healthcare and hygiene. The companies are now working particularly hard to achieve their ambitious sustainability targets, and are also already preparing for the world’s leading nonwovens exhibition Index, to be held from April 18-21, 2023 in Geneva/Switzerland. Here a first glimpse is provided:
Innovation in raw materials for the nonwovens industry is not just confined to natural feedstocks such as wood and other cellulosic crops, but by necessity extends to core synthetic fibers such as polypropylene (PP) and polyester (PET).
It should be emphasized that the performance requirements of nonwovens for a number of applications, especially in the areas of medical and hygiene, prevent complete polymer substitution – at least in the short-to medium term. At the same time, the production capacities of bio-plastic alternatives are still limited, representing less than 1% of the 360 million tons of plastics produced worldwide.
It is for these reasons that many complementary initiatives are underway. ExxonMobil, Houston, TX/USA, for example, has just completed its first commercial sale of certified circular PP polymers converted by its Exxtend recycling technology to the major nonwovens manufacturer Berry Global, Evansville, IN/USA.
An advanced recycling facility at ExxonMobil’s integrated site in Baytown, TX/USA, began operations in 2021 and has already processed more than 1.8 million kg of plastic waste.
The product quality and performance of the certified circular polymers is said to be identical to polymers produced from virgin raw materials, increasing the variety and number of customer applications.
The operation in Baytown will be among North America’s largest advanced plastic waste recycling facilities with a capacity to recycle 30,000 tons/year when its expansion is complete later this year. To help meet the growing market demand for certified circular plastics, ExxonMobil plans to increase its annual advanced recycling capacity across multiple sites globally to 500,000 tons by 2026.
The company has already obtained certifications through the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification Plus (ISCC PLUS) process for several of its facilities, including Baytown.
At the same time, there will soon be a growing availability of cellulosic feedstocks and already in 2022 to date, Lenzing AG, Lenzing/Austria, has opened its new €400 million lyocell plant in Thailand. The new plant – the largest of its kind in the world with a nameplate capacity of 100,000 tons/year – has started production on schedule and will help to better meet the increasing customer demand for Tencel branded lyocell fibers.
The lyocell production process is currently the most modern and environmentally responsible method for producing fibers from wood and has been successfully applied on an industrial scale for about 30 years.
Together with a key project in Brazil and the substantial investments at existing sites in Asia, Lenzing is currently implementing the largest expansion program in its corporate history with investments of more than €1.5 billion.
An extensive range of recycled and biodegradable fiber solutions for nonwovens is meanwhile being developed by the Hygiene Fibers group of Indorama Ventures (IVL), Bangkok/Thailand, which has announced a $1.5 billion investment program in new sustainable innovation.
The combination of polymers, technologies, processes, and global reach of the IVL Hygiene Fibers group uniquely positions it within the hygiene industry to meet the increasingly challenging market demand for sustainable solutions.
CiCLO, for example, is a new IVL technology which also allows PET to biodegrade like natural materials do in wastewater treatment plant sludge, sea water and landfill conditions, reducing synthetic microfiber pollution generated during washing, and minimizing plastic accumulation in landfills caused by discarded textiles.
Several IVL Hygiene Fibers brands, including Wellman, Trevira and Auriga, have been working closely with the CiCLO technology, with a focus on sustainable PET and rPET staple fiber and filament solutions in areas where recycling is particularly challenging, such as hygiene, home textiles and automotive applications.
IVL’s ambitious program is just one of many initiatives that are now underway and will lead to a planet-positive transformation of the nonwovens industry.
FiberPartner ApS, Vejle/Denmark, has been running trials with the new PrimaLoft Bio PET fiber at the Andritz Perfojet spunlacing pilot line in Montbonnot/France.
While its high durability means it is built to last, the ability of PrimaLoft Bio PET to return to natural elements in marine, wastewater and landfill environments directly combats microplastic pollution. The fiber can also be chemically recycled again and again, while maintaining the same high performance.
The use of 100% recycled material in initial production also saves up to 70% of the carbon emissions used in the production of virgin PET.
Andritz has successfully produced 35-50 g/m² carded and hydroentangled nonwovens with 100% PrimaLoft Bio fiber, confirming its eminent suitability as a replacement for standard PET in applications such as wipes.