The latest Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphatically shows that we need to redesign value creation processes in order to secure the future of the earth as a healthy biosphere. About 8 - 10% (approx. 4 to 5 billion tons) of global CO2 emissions are caused by the production of textiles. The textile industry is responsible for about 92 million tons of textile waste per year, most of which is landfilled or incinerated. The Institut für Textiltechnik of RWTH Aachen University (ITA), Aachen/Germany, has been working on the topic of Sustainable Textiles for years – both alone and together with partners – in a variety of areas.
The following flagship projects in the field of bioeconomy are examples of this: BIOTEXFUTURE
The Innovation Space BIOTEXFUTURE is made up of projects funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the "National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030" through the funding measure "Bioeconomy Innovation Spaces".
All research projects are working together on the overarching vision of converting the textile value chain from petroleum-based to bio-based aim to develop new production technologies for high-quality bio-based products for different sectors by using local, renewable raw materials instead of oil-based basic materials.
In the Bio4MatPro competence centre new production technologies for high-quality bio-based products for different sectors by using local, renewable raw materials instead of oil-based basic materials will be developed.
INGRAIN aims to convert residual materials from processing operations in the agricultural, textile and food industries into valuable substances or nutrients, thus enabling biobased, cycle-oriented and sustainable resource use on a regional basis. This innovative approach can help support structural change and create new jobs in the region in the long term.
Another example is "textile concrete." Research on this topic is being conducted jointly with the Institute of Structural Concrete and the Technische Universität Dresden/Germany.
Cement is one of the biggest CO2 emitters. The use of textile concrete can save up to 80% of the concrete or cement that would otherwise be needed to protect steel from corrosion. The ITA received an award from KlimaExpo.NRW in 2017 and 2018 for the projects "ECOTRM - Eco-concrete for climate-friendly facades", BlenaBis, Greenbraid and FlaxWrap. The climate-neutral carpet fibre "BlenaBis" was developed together with the TFI - Textile and Flooring Institute at RWTH Aachen University.
The projects also focus particularly on sustainability: Greenbraid
is concerned with the production of resistant flax fiber composites. The FlaxWrap project focuses on natural fiber-reinforced plastics (FRPs) for use in automotive construction. In addition, natural FRPs require much less energy to produce than carbon or glass FRPs – another aspect of sustainability.
In the field of aeronautics and energy conversion, the development of 3D braided ceramic matrix composite components for aircraft engines, which were researched together with partners in a Horizon 2020 project (EU project AllOxITD), is a showcase project. The ongoing Chrysomallos research project as another example, funded under the national aeronautics research program in Germany, aims to develop a completely new and sustainable high-performance insulator for aircraft cabins based on aerogels. These have a significantly lower weight than the glass fiber mats used up to now, while providing the same insulating performance, and solve the problem of the previously high manufacturing costs of aerogels.
Among other things, the ITA Augsburg is a leader in the field of carbon fibers. But how sustainable are carbon fibers? The sustainability of carbon fibers is often assessed on the basis of very few facts. There are 3 main aspects that play a role in the assessment:
1. Is the material sustainable as a resource?
In this category, carbon is not sustainable to begin with, as it is mainly produced on the basis of petroleum. However, carbon in particular offers a good basis for being produced in the future in a resource-saving way and even with a negative CO2 footprint. In the "Green to Black" project, the ITA Group will produce carbon from renewable precursors, e.g. from agricultural waste. Carbon would thus be superior to all conventional materials in terms of sustainability.
2. How often and how well can a material be reused?
In this area, numerous projects at ITA Augsburg have demonstrated that carbon fibers can be processed sensibly and with low energy input, e.g. into nonwovens-based composites (web-based composites), which still have very good lightweight construction properties and this can even be done several times.
3. Does the material contribute to positive effects in terms of sustainability?
Carbon is the most efficient of the known lightweight materials and often contributes twice to the conservation of resources: weight is saved during use and if the component is used in moving systems, additional energy is saved for the drive energy. Without carbon, high-performance aircraft, wind turbines and automobiles with alternative drive systems would be unimaginable today.
At the ITA Augsburg there is now also a new model workshop for recycling. On the one hand, the focus is on creating a technically, economically and ecologically sensible product before moving on to process engineering. Likewise, all steps are geared towards a high-quality end product (upcycling). In addition, the strategy in product development is based on Design 4 Recycling, which also keeps the next life cycle of the product in mind.
With the new material class "Web Based Composites", the ITA Augsburg has demonstrated in numerous projects how a high-quality use of composite waste can succeed (e.g. CC4 CosiMo, CC4 CaRinA or TTLB-ProMeTheus). Concentrating on the specific advantages of nonwovens-based materials makes it possible to realize components from recycled materials without giving up the advantages of the lightweight material and rather using specific advantages of the adapted manufacturing technologies.