Bio Synthetics -- Innovative and Sustainable
Written by: Sophie Mather
Bio synthetics give you the best of both worlds, true innovation AND the added benefit of being sustainable. Creating quite a buzz today within media, industry and also within politics, the concept of bio-based products is not new, having been first developed back in the 1940’s. Using bio raw materials, polymer developments help to overcome some of our current global issues such as: depleting oil reserves, escalating levels of GHG emissions and the rising cost of synthetic raw materials. These emerging polymers offer alternatives to standard fabrics such as Nylon and Polyester, which are at the core of our fibre purchasing needs.
As a textile industry we are outlining what this means to us, through standardized terminology and a single definition. Bio Synthetic: A polymer created from either a part percentage or 100% natural renewable resources (living organism), for the manufacture into synthetic fibres.
To be part of an innovation journey such of this is fun. Each challenge ahead of us poses new sets of parameters in which to work, that are great for stretching the boundaries of innovation. It is also a journey that brands, retailers and suppliers can jump on at various stages; as a complete novice or with experience and ideas already established in this field.
Entering into this for the first time, there are already commercial fabrics available. PLA is polyester derived 100% from corn that was first commercialized as Ingeo from NatureWorks LLC. (http://www.natureworksllc.com/). Known as a hybrid due to its part oil, part renewable content, PTT also sits within the polyester family. Its 37% renewable content is derived from corn and commercial fabrics are branded as Sorona® from DuPont™. (http://www2.dupont.com/Sorona_Consumer/en_US/index.html). Finishing off the portfolio of commercial synthetics, PA11 is a bio based nylon derived from castor oil, and is known as Rilsan® from its polymer supplier Arkema. (http://www.arkema.com/sites/group/en/home.page)
For those that have already established an understanding and want to go further, the market for emerging biosynthetics is rich and moving at a rapid pace. R&D around developments into bio spandex, drop in solutions that utilize existing process technology and differing raw materials all offer really exciting and innovative solutions to take this into the future.
What keeps me driven in this area, is the fact that this is not just about sustainability or like for like performance. These intriguing developments first attracted me through the performance plus attributes that they have the potential to deliver. The soft hand and inherent stretch that Sorona® offers, stands it aside from a regular polyester and the strength to weight attributes and moisture regain properties of the PA11 give performance not possible from a PA6 or PA66.
Coming out of the Textile Exchange 2011 conference, a number of members voiced an interest in collaboration in this area. Since then a Textile Exchange led Bio Synthetics working group has been formed between brands, retailers and suppliers, to create one point of view for the industry. For the brands and retailers this means one stronger voice to suppliers in order to maximize success and reap commercial results in a time and budget efficient manner. For the suppliers, this becomes a strategic alignment to the agenda set by brands and retailers, so that R&D resources can be streamlined for a greater return. Regularly new findings divert a course of action or open up a new kettle of worms, but if we approach them collaboratively we have a far greater hope for success. Synthetics as we know them today have had 70 years to get to the level of sophistication that we know and love, so we need to give bio synthetics a chance.
Highlights of this work will be shared in report and presentation format at the annual Textile Exchange conference 4th-5th October 2012. For anybody interested in finding out more about the Bio Synethic working group please contact Beth.
 Definition specific to the TE Bio Synthetic working group and created by consensus of the working group members. April 2012.