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CO2 Dyeing, Biosynthetics Driving Transition Towards New Textiles Economy

A new textiles economy is on the horizon as innovative textile and chemical firms develop new chemical- and petroleum-free processes to produce fabrics and materials.

A new textiles economy is on the horizon as innovative textile and chemical firms develop new chemical- and petroleum-free processes to produce fabrics and materials.

Global textile chemicals company Archroma has begun using what the textile industry considers to be the world’s first water-free and process chemical-free dyeing solution with its optical brightening agent Ultraphor® KCB. The technology is based on carbon dioxide instead of water and was developed and patented by Dutch processing engineering company DyeCoo Textile Systems B.V.

When pressurized, CO2 becomes “supercritical,” a phase between a liquid and a gas. In this state, CO2 has a very high solvent power, allowing dye to dissolve and be transported easily and deeply into fibers, creating bright whites and vibrant colors. The CO2 is reclaimed from existing industrial processes, recycling 95 percent of it in a closed-loop system. The technology uses 100 percent dyes with more than 98 percent uptake and uses no process chemicals and no water. As a result, no wastewater is produced.

In response to increasing consumer demand for more socially and environmentally responsible products, more textile manufacturers are turning to specialty chemical companies to help make their production processes and products more sustainable. Archroma’s range of optical brightening agents (OBAs) for polyester — the Ultraphor series — could help meet this need. Ultraphor KCB represents Archroma’s first foray into CO2 dyeing, and the company is looking to introduce further coloration and finishing effects in the future.

“While humans have used water to dye fabrics for more than 2,000 years, today water is an increasingly scarce resource that needs to be conserved. DyeCoo’s CO2 dyeing process offers an important step forward and we at Archroma are pleased to be able to help advance broader use of this eco-friendlier approach,” said Andrew McDonald, Global Head of Business Development, Synthetic & Wool, at Archroma.

Meanwhile, Italian textile firm Aquafil has agreed to a multi-year partnership with bioengineering company Genomatica to develop sustainable caprolactam, a key ingredient used in producing Aquaful’s signature 100 percent sustainable nylon.

The collaboration aims to develop a commercially-advantageous bioprocess (Genomatica’s GENO CPL™ process) to make the material using plant-based, renewable ingredients, rather than the crude oil-derived materials traditionally used by the nylon industry.

Petroleum-based caprolactam is used in a variety of applications, including carpets and apparel. The material has a global market of over five million tons a year. Genomatica’s GENO CPL process aims to provide a sustainable way of making caprolactam with better economics, including for smaller-scale plants. Additionally, it will enable licensees and their customers to differentiate themselves by offering a more sustainable bio-based product whose performance will be fully comparable with traditional nylon, and which will not require any machine or process adjustments in the existing nylon supply chain.

“As proven by the success of ECONYL®, consumers and manufacturers look forward to opportunities to play an active role in the circular economy. We aim to be a leader of sustainability for nylon, and we are excited by the opportunity to be the first to bring the benefits of this new technology to our customers, which is perfectly in line with our commitment to creating sustainable products,” said Giulio Bonazzi, Chairman and CEO of Aquafil. “Genomatica brings the technology, innovation and track record to help us achieve this.”

“This is another example of Genomatica applying the power of biology to rethink how widely used chemicals can be made a better way,” said Christophe Schilling, CEO of Genomatica. “Just as we’ve surpassed key milestones for our commercial GENO BDO process and were named winner of the ICIS Innovation Award for our new naturally sourced butylene glycol, we now aim to bring biotechnology innovation to enable better nylon products.”

The two companies are calling on the wider industry to join its bio-nylon program to accelerate sector transformation. By joining the program, companies ranging from chemical producers and product makers to agriculture companies and major brands can engage, influence priorities and gain access to Genomatica’s technologies and supply of bio-based chemicals.

Aquafil and Genomatica aren’t the only ones with biosynthetics on the brain: Textile Exchange has launched a new microsite,, to demystify the subject and provide information and market intelligence for both businesses and interested consumers.

“Right now, biosynthetics are a new emerging area for the textiles industry and an exciting one for us to be exploring at Textile Exchange. We are looking for opportunities to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. Fibers made from polymers based on plants and other biological inputs offer huge potential,” said Liesl Truscott, Director of Materials Strategy at Textile Exchange.

“Many of our members are curious about the technology but are asking questions about the sustainability opportunities biosynthetics offer. Our new microsite is a tool for communicating the big potential biosynthetics offer and their link to the Bio Economy, while also presenting the challenges and realities in terms of the sector’s stage of development and current scale.”

In 2016, Textile Exchange set up a Biosynthetics Working Group, comprised of members including adidas, Columbia, DuPont, H&M, Kering Group, Nike, Novozymes, Patagonia and VF Corporation, and experts with an interest in the future of bio-based materials as a means of transitioning away from petroleum-based textiles towards more sustainable alternatives. The multi-stakeholder group, led in its incubator phase by biov8tion, has focused on exploring the opportunities, challenges, barriers to growth, sustainability benefits and how to bring biosynthetics out of the R&D and proof-of-concept stage and establish them as a commercially viable alternative to virgin materials.

“As pressure on resources grows, the need to innovate and commercialize a varied portfolio of renewable bio-based synthetics is more important than ever. The entry-level communication included in the microsite will enable Textile Exchange to level set understanding across brands, retailers and supply chain partners to help expedite a collective understanding and move the agenda forward. It has been exciting to kick-start the shape of the microsite and I look forward to seeing how it develops in line with the fast-developing industry sector,” said Sophie Mather of biov8tion.

The Working Group meets in-person each year at the Preferred Fiber & Materials Round Tables day during Textile Exchange’s Textile Sustainability Conference, as well as having virtual meetings throughout the year. 2018’s in-person meeting will be held in Milan, the home of fashion, but also of much innovation in new fibers and technologies.