Growing sustainability trends and concerns about pollution and climate change are placing more and more pressure on the textile industry — one of the most carbon-intensive industries in the world. However, as new wood-based textile fiber technologies mature, could they offer a viable, ecologically sound option for oil and cotton-based textile fibers, along with an attractive profit opportunity for the pulp and paper industry?
A paper with the title "Wood Pulp - The New Cotton for the Garment Industry" by Fisher International on this topic has been published by the market research organization Tecnon OrbiChem Ltd., Croydon/UK.
The consumption of viscose and related fibers like lyocell has gradually increased. Still, the current share of wood-based textiles is only about 6% of the almost 100 million tons of textile fiber produced annually.
Oil-based fibers, which currently supply approx. two-thirds of the market, are durable, washable, and easy yet inexpensive to produce. The downside, however, is their extensive carbon footprint, low recyclability, and recently proven trait of releasing microplastics into the environment. As textile demand and pressure for replacing oil-based fibers is growing simultaneously, the market is ready for new solutions.
Opportunities for increasing textile production from other natural fibers are limited. Because of this, eyes are turning to so-called bio-based, man-made fibers like viscose. The promising potential for market growth is huge, as the projected need for textiles in 2025 is 140 million tons/year. Even if only a third of this growth is fulfilled by cellulose based textiles, this translates to 11 modern pulp lines supplying solely to the textile industry.
When wood-based textile fiber is produced at an integrated pulp and paper site with captive pulp, textile fibers can be manufactured with very low or possibly even zero carbon emissions. If viscose production is used as a benchmark, the lowest emission producer emits under 0.5 tons CO2 eq./ton of viscose grade pulp. The water footprint picture is similar. The raw material for viscose and for the new wood-based fibers can be produced with low-water processes, making the water footprint significantly lower than that of cotton or polyester.