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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
New Tech Breakthroughs Design Impacts Out of Everyday Products

While recycling most certainly plays an important role in the shift to the development of a more circular, sustainable economy, it largely focuses on a product or material’s end of life. But recent initiatives and technological breakthroughs are helping more companies design impacts out of their products’ life cycles.

While recycling most certainly plays an important role in the shift to the development of a more circular, sustainable economy, it largely focuses on a product or material’s end of life. But recent initiatives and technological breakthroughs are helping more companies design impacts out of their products’ life cycles.

Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia brand has teamed up with Swiss textile technology innovator HeiQ for an exclusive research partnership to explore novel ways for a sustainable textile finishing technology to achieve breathable and durable water repellence (DWR) with best-in-class performances.

Numerous human health and environmental studies have quantified the hazardous impacts of perfluorinated chemistries (PFCs, leading some brands in the outdoor industry to make the switch over to non-fluorinated DWRs. Among HeiQ’s product portfolio, there are several industry-leading fluorine-free DWR technologies, including the HeiQ Eco Dry product. Eco Dry is among the most effective non-pfc water repellent textile technologies on the market, capable of achieving water repellency performance identical to or better than PFC C6 levels.

To date, there is still much to explore in the regards to DWR effects in the areas of non-fluorinated water, stain and oil repellency performance. According to a survey conducted by the HeiQ Textile Market Knowledge Center with 40 outdoor, apparel and fashion brands in August 2016, 56 percent of the respondents expressed a need to learn more regarding the DWR performance function.

For decades, Patagonia has been leading the industry towards building high-performance products with the vision to a more sustainable future for our environment. A central component to Patagonia’s material innovation strategy is to minimize the proliferation of toxic chemistries.

“Shattering the status quo for DWR is of paramount importance to Patagonia. However, we will not be successful unless we also achieve the quality and performance that our customers demand, a calculated partnership is a key means of doing so,” said Matt Dwyer, director of material innovation and development at Patagonia. “HeiQ is a natural partner in its ability to conduct world class research while commercializing high performing, sustainable textile finishes and we believe that together we can find a solution.”

“We carefully choose our brand partners before initiating a cooperative research project to ensure that the joint effort is going to create the highest value possible for both parties, and more importantly, for consumers,” said Colin Lantz, VP of HeiQ Brandforce. He added, “Patagonia and HeiQ share the same vision that technology can perfect our everyday textile products. This formed the basis for this partnership.”

The HeiQ research leader for this project is Dr. Murray Height, co-founder and chief technology officer of the HeiQ Group. “We are constantly researching new ways to achieve water repellency on textiles and have worked towards non-pfc DWR technology for over five years. This project aims to realize an improved non-pfc DWR technology and achieve a new level of performance in this field,” Dr. Height said.

Meanwhile, IKEA has launched a range of sustainable kitchen fronts called KUNGSBACKA which are made from recycled PET bottles and wood. The new product line comes shortly just months after Ikea announced that it was allocating over €3 billion for sustainability investments, €1 billion of which is being directed to towards securing a long-term supply of sustainable materials.

PET bottles are made from the recyclable material polyethylene therephalate, but they aren’t often recycled and end up as waste in landfills. The production of the KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts means that a large quantity of PET bottles are recycled and are used to replace virgin oil based plastic.

“What we do at IKEA has a big impact on the environment due to the large quantities we produce, so by using recycled materials, we can create products which are more environmentally friendly and sustainable,” said Anna Granath, product developer at IKEA.

“Our ambition at Ikea is to increase the share of recycled materials in our products so we are looking into new ways to reuse materials, such as paper, fiber, foam and plastic, so that we can give them a new life in a new product.”

Roughly 25 half-litre PET bottles are used to create a plastic foil which coats the reclaimed wood kitchen fronts, creating a sustainable kitchen without compromising on quality, design or price.

The KUNGSBACKA kitchen fronts will be available from February, initially launching in matte-look anthracite, with more colors potentially coming in the future.

“The new KUNGSBACKA range is a start in turning everyday waste into beautiful furniture. At IKEA we are very conscious of the impact of waste, knowing that plastic bottles take up to 1,000 years to decompose and that 70 percent of all PET bottles end up in either landfill or worse in our seas and oceans, is of concern,” said David Vine, IKEA UK & Ireland Kitchens business leader. “Today, 90 percent of waste created in the kitchen is recycled but few think about the kitchen itself. We hope that the launch of this range will help people to think about the materials that are in their home furnishings and create a more sustainable home setting.”

In other materials news, a new biomass technology patented by the University of Minnesota has potential to make the tire industry, as well as other rubber-based products, more sustainable and economical.

A study published in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Catalysis details the chemical process used to make isoprene, the key molecule in car tires, from renewable products like trees, grasses or corn.

“This research could have a major impact on the multi-billion-dollar automobile tire industry,” said Paul Dauenhauer, a University of Minnesota associate professor and lead researcher of the study.

Biomass-derived isoprene has been an important initiative for tire companies for almost a decade, with efforts focused largely on developing fermentation technologies. However, renewable isoprene has proven to be a difficult molecule to generate from microbes, and efforts to make it by a fully biological process have thus far been unsuccessful.

With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Center for Sustainable Polymers at the University of Minnesota has been focusing on a process that begins with sugars derived from biomass including grasses, trees and corn. They found that a three-step process is optimized when it is “hybridized,” meaning it combines biological fermentation using microbes with conventional catalytic refining that is similar to petroleum refining technology.

The first step of the new process involves microbial fermentation of sugars derived from biomass to an intermediate, called itaconic acid. In the second step, itaconic acid is reacted with hydrogen to a chemical called methyl-THF (tetrahydrofuran). This step was optimized when the research team identified a unique metal-metal combination that served as a highly efficient catalyst.

The process technology breakthrough came in the third step to dehydrate methyl-THF to isoprene. Using a catalyst recently discovered at the University of Minnesota called P-SPP (Phosphorous Self-Pillared Pentasil), the team was able to demonstrate a catalytic efficiency as high as 90 percent with most of the catalytic product being isoprene. By combining all three steps into a process, isoprene can be renewably sourced from biomass.

While companies such as Cox Enterprises, Piromak, and Boulder Industries have all made recent advances in reducing tires’ environmental impacts, they have largely focused on end-of-life technologies and recycling. The University of Minnesota’s discovery has potential to design impacts out of tires’ lifecycle.