Fibres with potential to compete & complement cotton production have reached peak
Marten Alkhagen, Senior Scientist - Nonwoven and Technical Textiles of Swerea IVF AB is an expert in the technical textiles industry. He shares his views on the biggest markets for technical textiles, their growth potential and upcoming technological innovations.
Swerea IVF is a research institute and is present in a multitude of different niches that concern technical textile. Recently, we purchased a melt-blown pilot line that, in combination with our conventional nonwoven line and atmospheric plasma, gives opportunities to develop new functional materials. In our bi-component melt-spinning machine, we produce our own customised fibres, staple or filament to be used in carded nonwovens or yarns for technical textiles. For example, we have developed piezoelectric fibres that can be used for energy harvesting and fibres containing phase change material for a temperature regulating effect. The potential for incorporating additional functionality in textiles is growing rapidly. Several patents and scientific publications result from the activities as well as demonstrators and prototypes when close collaboration with the industry is true. To meet the demand for sustainable material, we have a lot of ongoing research. Examples are to make fibres from dissolved cellulose, to make carbon fibre precursors from lignin and to use recycled textiles as a raw material for different applications, in different fields, and not only for textiles. With increasing global welfare, these activities have immense potential, not only to replace or complement cotton but also to be an alternative to fossil-based polymers in textiles, including nonwovens.
Most of our projects are with companies in the Swedish and Nordic markets. However, the companies often have Asian sub-suppliers which can lead to collaboration opportunities.
The business has grown around five per cent during the last year. We have an increased target, focussing on sustainability activities, of around 10 per cent for the coming two years.
We are a non-profitable research institute. Any profit we make is used for investment in equipment.
Sustainable production of textiles, i.e. sustainable raw material, has been in the focus for several years, but will most probably explode in the coming years. A lot of work is going on to find processes that are more environment-friendly than the viscose process to produce regenerated cellulose fibres. According to analysts, fibres with a potential to compete and complement today's cotton production have reached the peak. The development of biobased polymers like PLA, bio-PET, bio-PP has reached a stage where commercialisation has started.
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