Dr. Wesley Clements (Source: Baldwin)
The textile and nonwovens industry is one of the biggest manufacturing industries and today one of the largest industrial polluters. In the past few years, sustainability has become a key performance indicator (KPI) for most brands. We spoke to Dr. Wesley Clements about the opportunities and challenges for sustainable and climate-neutral textile production.
What does the path toward a sustainable and climate neutral industry look like?
It is well established that the textile industry is one of the largest contributors to contaminated wastewater. In past decades, the industry approach has been to export the problem to developing countries and later to manage the problem with large wastewater treatment plants. These are both expensive to build and operate, but for sure a very positive development. Textile manufacturing is also very energy intensive but in the era of cheap energy this was not a priority.
What has changed in recent years is genuine concern for the environment from both pollution and CO2 discharges. Importantly the consumer is aware leading to the brands to increase focus on sustainability. Indeed, sustainability has moved from as aspiration to a key performance indicator for most brands. Mills are under pressure to reduce the carbon footprint and environmental impact from wastewater discharges. For example, some brands are mandating an end to use of coal for boilers.
Textile manufacturing is increasingly innovative in part driven by consumer demand to reduce waste, whether that is wastewater or energy consumption. Digital printing has high growth and adoption globally, however it still represents a small percentage of total printed. Reduced environmental impact is a big driver with not only dramatically reduced wastewater and drying energy but with the added benefit of manufacture closer to the consumer, enabling smaller lot sizes and reduced transport costs.
Until recently textile finishing was extremely conservative with almost every mill globally using foulard/padding to apply functional finishes. Relative to dyeing, wastewater discharge per batch is smaller but 150 l of wastewater every time of fabric color changes or chemical changes is significant and avoidable waste. As outlined below, spray technology provides a secure alternative finishing application method that is being embraced worldwide.
Will there be a change in attitude and a transformation regarding materials, technologies and production processes?
There is already. There is a textile finishing revolution. Brands and mills are desperately trying to serve the current and anticipated future needs of customers, governments and regulators.
The fashion industry, including the production of all clothes which people wear, contributes to around 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. The textile industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industry combined. Therefore, the only way is to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (3R), and there are new technologies that can assist the finishing lines to optimize the 3Rs in production. There is also increasing focus on the chemicals used on fabrics with almost daily announcements about new dyeing technologies, formaldehyde free formulations, etc. The textile industry is moving to self-ban PFC or fluorocarbon repellent finishes. Again, consumer demand is driving this change with increased awareness of the damage caused by such chemicals lingering in the environment. Decades of expertise gained using C8 & C6 finishes is now essentially obsolete as consumers demand alternatives. The consumer drives innovation in this area, whether it is sofa fabric, car upholstery or a ski jacket.
Finishing processes require chemicals and a lot of energy for drying and fixing. What are the options for making these processes more environmentally friendly?
Finishing has until now not been in the crosshairs partly because of the focus on the dyeing area. Blue wastewater is difficult to disguise.
The foulard/pad approach whilst simple, has many downsides. The dipping technique guarantees maximum water content in the fabric leaving finishing as the water uptake is primarily of function of the soaking capacity of the fabric. Dip a towl in a bath and it is impossible not to fully soak it but spray it with a water spray bottle and you can apply as much or as little water as you desire. Non-contact precision spray is that simple, it puts control of water add under machine control as opposed to being locking into what the fabric holds. Less water equals less drying energy.
There has been attempts at innovation with early spray solutions and foam techniques for several decades. In niche applications, such technologies have enjoyed success but high operator skill requirements and/or high maintenance have limited their application. In addition, it has been well established that such systems can suffer from spray evenness and a lack of penetration into the fabric.
Precision spray technology from Baldwin is very mature technology having been proven and refined in the offset industry for over 30 years, offering unparalleled precision and uniformity across the fabric. Non-contract spray technology separates the finishing chemical from the fabric and thus eliminates problems with fabric particles contaminating the mix. It is no longer necessary to drain the foulard every time a fabric color change. Furthermore, the captive volume of a TexCoat System from Baldwin is 3 l of finishing chemical and we give the user the ability to easily drain and capture this “uncontaminated” clean liquid. Users can thus have zero discharge of finishing chemical to wastewater streams. As with other spray systems, drying energy requirements can reduce by typically 50%
With this precision spray technology, you can apply the same amount of chemistry which needed to ensure the desired properties of the product, but the same time you apply the chemical where you need it, consequently you can achieve lower amount of water and less amount of energy is need it for drying and curing the material.
Can these spray systems also be integrated into existing plants and lines? Also, can the proven products continue to be used?
Yes. We have installed over 60 spray systems worldwide. We typically install between an existing foulard and the stenter, or fully replace foulards. Both open width and tubular pad systems have been converted. With advance planning, most systems can be installed 1 day.
The flexibility of the spray technology to apply single side finish is increasingly important. For example, we have several upholstery mills operating spray in series with an existing back coating system. The low pick-up ability of spray enables in line face finishing and back coating in a single pass. Single pass versus dual pass processing delivers large energy savings, eliminates foulard waste and increases productivity. This work was made possible by working closely with chemical providers on both formulations but also local education of operators and management. Change is always faster when all key partners are aligned.
Baldwin is an American company. Do you see any differences in the behavior of American, European and Asian consumers with regard to sustainability awareness for textiles and disposables made of nonwovens (wipes, hygiene products)?
Baldwin is a global company headquartered out of the USA. We have product development, manufacturing, service and sales on several continents, including both Germany and Sweden in Europe. Behavior of brands and consumers is largely the same, the debate is more around where they are in the adoption curve. In many cases the USA has led the way with our first major conversion by a US-owned mill in the Caribbean. We also notice increased awareness of the need to switch out C6 by US-mills.
TexCoat = trademark
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, Editor of TextileTechnology, with Dr. Wesley Clements, Director – Engineering of Baldwin Technology Company Inc., St. Louis, MO/USA.