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Bacteria, eating Plastic and producing Multipurpose Spider Silk Photo: Kareni, Pixabay
05.02.2024

Bacteria, eating Plastic and producing Multipurpose Spider Silk

For the first time, researchers have used bacteria to “upcycle” waste polyethylene: Move over Spider-Man: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a strain of bacteria that can turn plastic waste into a biodegradable spider silk with multiple uses.

Their new study marks the first time scientists have used bacteria to transform polyethylene plastic — the kind used in many single-use items — into a high-value protein product.

That product, which the researchers call “bio-inspired spider silk” because of its similarity to the silk spiders use to spin their webs, has applications in textiles, cosmetics, and even medicine.

For the first time, researchers have used bacteria to “upcycle” waste polyethylene: Move over Spider-Man: Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a strain of bacteria that can turn plastic waste into a biodegradable spider silk with multiple uses.

Their new study marks the first time scientists have used bacteria to transform polyethylene plastic — the kind used in many single-use items — into a high-value protein product.

That product, which the researchers call “bio-inspired spider silk” because of its similarity to the silk spiders use to spin their webs, has applications in textiles, cosmetics, and even medicine.

“Spider silk is nature’s Kevlar,” said Helen Zha, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and one of the RPI researchers leading the project. “It can be nearly as strong as steel under tension. However, it’s six times less dense than steel, so it’s very lightweight. As a bioplastic, it’s stretchy, tough, nontoxic, and biodegradable.”

All those attributes make it a great material for a future where renewable resources and avoidance of persistent plastic pollution are the norm, Zha said.

Polyethylene plastic, found in products such as plastic bags, water bottles, and food packaging, is the biggest contributor to plastic pollution globally and can take upward of 1,000 years to degrade naturally. Only a small portion of polyethylene plastic is recycled, so the bacteria used in the study could help “upcycle” some of the remaining waste.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the bacteria used in the study, can naturally consume polyethylene as a food source. The RPI team tackled the challenge of engineering this bacteria to convert the carbon atoms of polyethylene into a genetically encoded silk protein. Surprisingly, they found that their newly developed bacteria could make the silk protein at a yield rivaling some bacteria strains that are more conventionally used in biomanufacturing.

The underlying biological process behind this innovation is something people have employed for millennia.

“Essentially, the bacteria are fermenting the plastic. Fermentation is used to make and preserve all sorts of foods, like cheese, bread, and wine, and in biochemical industries it’s used to make antibiotics, amino acids, and organic acids,” said Mattheos Koffas, Ph.D., Dorothy and Fred Chau ʼ71 Career Development Constellation Professor in Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering, and the other researcher leading the project, and who, along with Zha, is a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer.

To get bacteria to ferment polyethylene, the plastic is first “predigested,” Zha said. Just like humans need to cut and chew our food into smaller pieces before our bodies can use it, the bacteria has difficulty eating the long molecule chains, or polymers, that comprise polyethylene.

In the study, Zha and Koffas collaborated with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, who depolymerized the plastic by heating it under pressure, producing a soft, waxy substance. Next, the team put a layer of the plastic-derived wax on the bottoms of flasks, which served as the nutrient source for the bacteria culture. This contrasts with typical fermentation, which uses sugars as the nutrient source.

“It’s as if, instead of feeding the bacteria cake, we’re feeding it the candles on the cake,” Zha said.

Then, as a warming plate gently swirled the flasks’ contents, the bacteria went to work. After 72 hours, the scientists strained out the bacteria from the liquid culture, purified the silk protein, and freeze dried it. At that stage, the protein, which resembled torn up cotton balls, could potentially be spun into thread or made into other useful forms.

“What’s really exciting about this process is that, unlike the way plastics are produced today, our process is low energy and doesn’t require the use of toxic chemicals,” Zha said. “The best chemists in the world could not convert polyethylene into spider silk, but these bacteria can. We’re really harnessing what nature has developed to do manufacturing for us.”

However, before upcycled spider silk products become a reality, the researchers will first need to find ways to make the silk protein more efficiently.

“This study establishes that we can use these bacteria to convert plastic to spider silk. Our future work will investigate whether tweaking the bacteria or other aspects of the process will allow us to scale up production,” Koffas said.

“Professors Zha and Koffas represent the new generation of chemical and biological engineers merging biological engineering with materials science to manufacture ecofriendly products. Their work is a novel approach to protecting the environment and reducing our reliance on nonrenewable resources,” said Shekhar Garde, Ph.D., dean of RPI’s School of Engineering.

The study, which was conducted by first author Alexander Connor, who earned his doctorate from RPI in 2023, and co-authors Jessica Lamb and Massimiliano Delferro with Argonne National Laboratory, is published in the journal “Microbial Cell Factories.”

Source:

Samantha Murray, Rensselaer

Converting CO2 to Solid Carbon Nanofibers (c) Zhenhua Xie/Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia University; Erwei Huang/Brookhaven National Laboratory
22.01.2024

Converting CO2 to Solid Carbon Nanofibers

Tandem electrocatalytic-thermocatalytic conversion could help offset emissions of potent greenhouse gas by locking carbon away in a useful material.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia University have developed a way to convert carbon dioxide (CO2), a potent greenhouse gas, into carbon nanofibers, materials with a wide range of unique properties and many potential long-term uses. Their strategy uses tandem electrochemical and thermochemical reactions run at relatively low temperatures and ambient pressure. As the scientists describe in the journal Nature Catalysis, this approach could successfully lock carbon away in a useful solid form to offset or even achieve negative carbon emissions.

Tandem electrocatalytic-thermocatalytic conversion could help offset emissions of potent greenhouse gas by locking carbon away in a useful material.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Columbia University have developed a way to convert carbon dioxide (CO2), a potent greenhouse gas, into carbon nanofibers, materials with a wide range of unique properties and many potential long-term uses. Their strategy uses tandem electrochemical and thermochemical reactions run at relatively low temperatures and ambient pressure. As the scientists describe in the journal Nature Catalysis, this approach could successfully lock carbon away in a useful solid form to offset or even achieve negative carbon emissions.

“You can put the carbon nanofibers into cement to strengthen the cement,” said Jingguang Chen, a professor of chemical engineering at Columbia with a joint appointment at Brookhaven Lab who led the research. “That would lock the carbon away in concrete for at least 50 years, potentially longer. By then, the world should be shifted to primarily renewable energy sources that don’t emit carbon.”

As a bonus, the process also produces hydrogen gas (H2), a promising alternative fuel that, when used, creates zero emissions.

Capturing or converting carbon?
The idea of capturing CO2 or converting it to other materials to combat climate change is not new. But simply storing CO2 gas can lead to leaks. And many CO2 conversions produce carbon-based chemicals or fuels that are used right away, which releases CO2 right back into the atmosphere.

“The novelty of this work is that we are trying to convert CO2 into something that is value-added but in a solid, useful form,” Chen said.

Such solid carbon materials—including carbon nanotubes and nanofibers with dimensions measuring billionths of a meter—have many appealing properties, including strength and thermal and electrical conductivity. But it’s no simple matter to extract carbon from carbon dioxide and get it to assemble into these fine-scale structures. One direct, heat-driven process requires temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius.

“It’s very unrealistic for large-scale CO2 mitigation,” Chen said. “In contrast, we found a process that can occur at about 400 degrees Celsius, which is a much more practical, industrially achievable temperature.”

The tandem two-step
The trick was to break the reaction into stages and to use two different types of catalysts—materials that make it easier for molecules to come together and react.

“If you decouple the reaction into several sub-reaction steps you can consider using different kinds of energy input and catalysts to make each part of the reaction work,” said Brookhaven Lab and Columbia research scientist Zhenhua Xie, lead author on the paper.

The scientists started by realizing that carbon monoxide (CO) is a much better starting material than CO2 for making carbon nanofibers (CNF). Then they backtracked to find the most efficient way to generate CO from CO2.

Earlier work from their group steered them to use a commercially available electrocatalyst made of palladium supported on carbon. Electrocatalysts drive chemical reactions using an electric current. In the presence of flowing electrons and protons, the catalyst splits both CO2 and water (H2O) into CO and H2.

For the second step, the scientists turned to a heat-activated thermocatalyst made of an iron-cobalt alloy. It operates at temperatures around 400 degrees Celsius, significantly milder than a direct CO2-to-CNF conversion would require. They also discovered that adding a bit of extra metallic cobalt greatly enhances the formation of the carbon nanofibers.

“By coupling electrocatalysis and thermocatalysis, we are using this tandem process to achieve things that cannot be achieved by either process alone,” Chen said.

Catalyst characterization
To discover the details of how these catalysts operate, the scientists conducted a wide range of experiments. These included computational modeling studies, physical and chemical characterization studies at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—using the Quick X-ray Absorption and Scattering (QAS) and Inner-Shell Spectroscopy (ISS) beamlines—and microscopic imaging at the Electron Microscopy facility at the Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN).

On the modeling front, the scientists used “density functional theory” (DFT) calculations to analyze the atomic arrangements and other characteristics of the catalysts when interacting with the active chemical environment.

“We are looking at the structures to determine what are the stable phases of the catalyst under reaction conditions,” explained study co-author Ping Liu of Brookhaven’s Chemistry Division who led these calculations. “We are looking at active sites and how these sites are bonding with the reaction intermediates. By determining the barriers, or transition states, from one step to another, we learn exactly how the catalyst is functioning during the reaction.”

X-ray diffraction and x-ray absorption experiments at NSLS-II tracked how the catalysts change physically and chemically during the reactions. For example, synchrotron x-rays revealed how the presence of electric current transforms metallic palladium in the catalyst into palladium hydride, a metal that is key to producing both H2 and CO in the first reaction stage.

For the second stage, “We wanted to know what’s the structure of the iron-cobalt system under reaction conditions and how to optimize the iron-cobalt catalyst,” Xie said. The x-ray experiments confirmed that both an alloy of iron and cobalt plus some extra metallic cobalt are present and needed to convert CO to carbon nanofibers.

“The two work together sequentially,” said Liu, whose DFT calculations helped explain the process.

“According to our study, the cobalt-iron sites in the alloy help to break the C-O bonds of carbon monoxide. That makes atomic carbon available to serve as the source for building carbon nanofibers. Then the extra cobalt is there to facilitate the formation of the C-C bonds that link up the carbon atoms,” she explained.

Recycle-ready, carbon-negative
“Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) analysis conducted at CFN revealed the morphologies, crystal structures, and elemental distributions within the carbon nanofibers both with and without catalysts,” said CFN scientist and study co-author Sooyeon Hwang.

The images show that, as the carbon nanofibers grow, the catalyst gets pushed up and away from the surface. That makes it easy to recycle the catalytic metal, Chen said.

“We use acid to leach the metal out without destroying the carbon nanofiber so we can concentrate the metals and recycle them to be used as a catalyst again,” he said.

This ease of catalyst recycling, commercial availability of the catalysts, and relatively mild reaction conditions for the second reaction all contribute to a favorable assessment of the energy and other costs associated with the process, the researchers said.

“For practical applications, both are really important—the CO2 footprint analysis and the recyclability of the catalyst,” said Chen. “Our technical results and these other analyses show that this tandem strategy opens a door for decarbonizing CO2 into valuable solid carbon products while producing renewable H2.”

If these processes are driven by renewable energy, the results would be truly carbon-negative, opening new opportunities for CO2 mitigation.

Source:

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Firefighter Photo: 12019 at Pixabay
11.12.2023

Study tests firefighter turnout gear with, without PFAS


Transitioning away from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which offer water- and oil-repelling properties on the outer shells of firefighter turnout gear, could bring potential performance tradeoffs, according to a new study from North Carolina State University.

The study showed that turnout gear without PFAS outer shell coatings were not oil-repellent, posing a potential flammability hazard to firefighters if exposed to oil and flame, said Bryan Ormond, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at NC State and corresponding author of a paper describing the research.

“All oil repellents can also repel water, but all water repellents don’t necessarily repel oil,” Ormond said. “Diesel fuel is really difficult to repel, as is hydraulic fluid; in our testing, PFAS-treated materials repel both. In our tests, turnout gear without PFAS repelled water but not oil or hydraulic fluid.


Transitioning away from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which offer water- and oil-repelling properties on the outer shells of firefighter turnout gear, could bring potential performance tradeoffs, according to a new study from North Carolina State University.

The study showed that turnout gear without PFAS outer shell coatings were not oil-repellent, posing a potential flammability hazard to firefighters if exposed to oil and flame, said Bryan Ormond, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at NC State and corresponding author of a paper describing the research.

“All oil repellents can also repel water, but all water repellents don’t necessarily repel oil,” Ormond said. “Diesel fuel is really difficult to repel, as is hydraulic fluid; in our testing, PFAS-treated materials repel both. In our tests, turnout gear without PFAS repelled water but not oil or hydraulic fluid.

“Further, oils seem to spread out even more on the PFAS-free gear, potentially increasing the hazard.”

PFAS chemicals – known as forever chemicals because of their environmental persistence – are used in food packaging, cookware and cosmetics, among other uses, but have recently been implicated in higher risks of cancer, higher cholesterol levels and compromised immune systems in humans. In response, firefighters have sought alternative chemical compounds – like the hydrocarbon wax coating used in the study – on turnout gear to repel water and oils.

Besides testing the oil- and water-repelling properties of PFAS-treated and PFAS-free outer garments, the NC State researchers also compared how the outer shells aged in job-related exposures like weathering, high heat and repeated laundering, and whether the garments remained durable and withstood tears and rips.

The study showed that PFAS-treated and PFAS-free outer shells performed similarly after exposure to UV rays and various levels of heat and moisture, as well as passes through heating equipment – similar to a pizza oven – and through washing machines.

“Laundering the gear is actually very damaging to turnout gear because of the washing machine’s agitation and cleaning agents used,” Ormond said.

“We also performed chemical analyses to see what’s happening during the weathering process,” said Nur Mazumder, an NC State doctoral student in fiber and polymer science and lead author of the paper. “Are we losing the PFAS chemistries, the PFAS-free chemistries or both when we age the garments? It turns out that we lost significant amounts of both of these finishes after the aging tests.”

Both types of garments performed similarly when tested for strength against tearing the outer shell fabric. The researchers say the PFAS and PFAS-free coatings didn’t seem to affect this attribute.

Ormond said that future work will explore how much oil repellency is needed by firefighters out in the field.
“Even with PFAS treatment, you see a difference between a splash of fluid and soaked-in fluid,” Ormond said. “For all of its benefits, PFAS-treated gear, when soaked, is dangerous to firefighters. So we need to really ask ‘What do firefighters need?’ If you’re not experiencing this need for oil repellency, there’s no worry about switching to non-PFAS gear. But firefighters need to know the non-PFAS gear will absorb oil, regardless of what those oils are.”

Andrew Hall, another NC State doctoral student in fiber and polymer science and co-author on the paper, is also testing dermal absorption, or taking the aged outer shell materials and placing them on a skin surrogate for a day or two. Are outer shell chemicals absorbed in the skin surrogate after these admittedly extreme exposure durations?

“Firefighting as a job is classified as a carcinogen but it shouldn’t have to be,” Ormond said. “How do we make better gear for them? How do we come up with better finishes and strategies for them?

“These aren’t just fabrics,” Ormond said. “They are highly engineered pieces of material that aren’t easily replaced.”

The paper appears in the Journal of Industrial Textiles. Funding for the research came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants Program.

Source:

North Carolina State University, Mick Kulikowski

offshore windpark Nicholas Doherty, unsplash
17.10.2023

Pyrolysis processes promise sustainable recycling of fiber composites

Wind turbines typically operate for 20 to 30 years before they are undergoing dismantling and recycling. However, the recycling of fiber composites, especially from the thick-walled rotor blade parts, has been inadequate until now. The prevailing methods involve thermal or mechanical recycling. For a sustainable and holistic recycling process, a research consortium led by Fraunhofer IFAM is pooling their expertise to recover the fibers through pyrolysis. Subsequent surface treatment and quality testing of the recyclates allow for them to be used again in industry.

Wind turbines typically operate for 20 to 30 years before they are undergoing dismantling and recycling. However, the recycling of fiber composites, especially from the thick-walled rotor blade parts, has been inadequate until now. The prevailing methods involve thermal or mechanical recycling. For a sustainable and holistic recycling process, a research consortium led by Fraunhofer IFAM is pooling their expertise to recover the fibers through pyrolysis. Subsequent surface treatment and quality testing of the recyclates allow for them to be used again in industry.

Today, the vast majority of wind turbines can already be recycled cleanly. In the case of rotor blades, however, recycling is only just beginning. Due to the 20-year operation period and the installation rates, the blade volume for recycling will be increasing in the coming years and decades. In 2000, for example, around 6,000 wind turbines were erected in Germany, which now need to be fed into a sustainable recycling process. In 2022, about 30,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines with a capacity of 65 gigawatts were in operation in Germany alone.

As wind energy is the most important cornerstone for a climate-neutral power supply, the German government has set itself the goal of further increasing its wind energy capacity by 2030 by installing larger and more modern turbines. Rotor blades will become longer, the proportion of carbon fibers used will continue to increase - and so will the amount of waste. In addition, the existing material mix in rotor blades is expected to increase in the future and precise knowledge of the structure of the components will become even more important for recycling. This underscores the urgency of developing sustainable processing methods, especially for recycling the thick-walled fiber composites in the rotor blades.

Economic and ecological recycling solution for fiber composites on the horizon
Rotor blades of wind turbines currently up for recycling consist of more than 85 percent of glass- and carbon-fiber-reinforced thermosets (GFRP/CFRP). A large proportion of these materials is found in the flange and root area and within the fiber-reinforced straps as thick-walled laminates with a wall thicknesses of up to 150 mm. Research into high-quality material fiber recycling as continuous fibers is of particular importance, not only because of the energy required for carbon fiber production. This is where the project "Pyrolysis of thick-walled fiber composites as a key innovation in the recycling process for wind turbine rotor blades" – "RE SORT" for short – funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection comes in. The aim of the project team is the complete recycling by means of pyrolysis.

A prerequisite for high-quality recycling of fiber composites is the separation of the fibers from the mostly thermoset matrix. Although pyrolysis is a suitable process for this purpose, it has not yet gained widespread adoption. Within the project, the project partners are therefore investigating and developing pyrolysis technologies that make the recycling of thick-walled fiber composite structures economically feasible and are technically different from the recycling processes commonly used for fiber composites today. Both quasi-continuous batch and microwave pyrolysis are being considered.

Batch pyrolysis, which is being developed within the project, is a pyrolysis process in which the thermoset matrix of thick fiber composite components is slowly decomposed into oily and especially gaseous hydrocarbon compounds by external heating. In microwave pyrolysis, energy is supplied by the absorption of microwave radiation, resulting in internal rapid heat generation. Quasi-continuous batch pyrolysis as well as microwave pyrolysis allow the separation of pyrolysis gases or oils. The planned continuous microwave pyrolysis also allows for the fibers to be preserved and reused in their full length.

How the circular economy succeeds - holistic utilization of the recycled products obtained
In the next step, the surfaces of the recovered recycled fibers are prepared by means of atmospheric plasmas and wet-chemical coatings to ensure their suitability for reuse in industrial applications. Finally, strength tests can be used to decide whether the recycled fibers will be used again in the wind energy industry or, for example, in the automotive or sporting goods sectors.

The pyrolysis oils and pyrolysis gases obtained in batch and microwave pyrolysis are evaluated with respect to their usability as raw materials for polymer synthesis (pyrolysis oils) or as energy sources for energy use in combined heat and power (CHP) plants (pyrolysis gases).

Both quasi-continuous batch pyrolysis and continuous-flow microwave pyrolysis promise economical operation and a significant reduction in the environmental footprint of wind energy. Therefore, the chances for a technical implementation and utilization of the project results are very good, so that this project can make a decisive contribution to the achievement of the sustainability and climate goals of the German Federal Government.

Source:

Fraunhofer-Institut für Fertigungstechnik und Angewandte Materialforschung IFAM

Carbon U Profil (c) vombaur GmbH & Co. KG
19.09.2023

"After all, a spaceship is not made off the peg."

Interview with vombaur - pioneers in special textiles
Technical narrow textiles, custom solutions, medium-sized textile producer and development partner for filtration textiles, composite textiles and industrial textiles: vombaur. Digitalisation, sustainability, energy prices, pioneering work and unbroken enthusiasm – Textination spoke to two passionate textile professionals: Carl Mrusek, Chief Sales Officer (CSO), and Johannes Kauschinger, Sales Manager for Composites and Industrial Textiles, at vombaur GmbH, which, as well as JUMBO-Textil, belongs to the Textation Group.
 

Interview with vombaur - pioneers in special textiles
Technical narrow textiles, custom solutions, medium-sized textile producer and development partner for filtration textiles, composite textiles and industrial textiles: vombaur. Digitalisation, sustainability, energy prices, pioneering work and unbroken enthusiasm – Textination spoke to two passionate textile professionals: Carl Mrusek, Chief Sales Officer (CSO), and Johannes Kauschinger, Sales Manager for Composites and Industrial Textiles, at vombaur GmbH, which, as well as JUMBO-Textil, belongs to the Textation Group.
 
If you look back at your history and thus to the beginnings of the 19th century, you will see a ribbon manufactory and, from 1855, a production of silk and hat bands. Today you produce filtration textiles, industrial textiles and composites textiles. Although you still produce narrow textiles today, the motto "Transformation as an opportunity" seems to be a lived reality at vombaur.
 
Carl Mrusek, Chief Sales Officer: Yes, vombaur has changed a few times in its almost 220-year history.  Yet the company has always remained true to itself as a narrow textiles manufacturer. This testifies to the willingness of the people in the company to change and to their curiosity. Successful transformation is a joint development, there is an opportunity in change. vombaur has proven this many times over the past almost 220 years: We have adapted our product portfolio to new times, we have built new factory buildings and new machinery, we have introduced new materials and developed new technologies, we have entered into new partnerships – as most recently as part of the Textation Group. We are currently planning our new headquarters. We are not reinventing ourselves, but we will go through a kind of transformation process with the move into the brand new, climate-friendly high-tech space.

 

Could you describe the challenges of this transformation process?
 
Johannes Kauschinger, Sales Manager for Composites and Industrial Textiles: A transformation usually takes place technically, professionally, organisationally and not least – perhaps even first and foremost – culturally. The technical challenges are obvious. Secondly, in order to manage and use the new technologies, appropriate expertise is needed in the company. Thirdly, every transformation entails new processes, teams and procedures have to be adapted. And finally, fourthly, the corporate culture also changes. Technology can be procured, expertise acquired, the organisation adapted. Time, on the other hand, cannot be bought. I therefore consider the greatest challenge to be the supply of human resources: In order to actively shape the transformation and not be driven by development, we need sufficient skilled workers.

 

Visiting your website, the claim "pioneering tech tex" immediately catches the eye. Why do you see your company as a pioneer, and what are vombaur's groundbreaking or pioneering innovations?

Carl Mrusek: With our unique machine park, we are pioneers for seamless circular woven textiles. And as a development partner, we break new ground with every order. We are always implementing new project-specific changes: to the end products, to the product properties, to the machines. It happens regularly that we adapt a weaving machine for a special seamless woven shaped textile, sometimes even develop a completely new one.
 
With our young, first-class and growing team for Development and Innovation led by Dr. Sven Schöfer, we repeatedly live up to our promise of "pioneering tech tex" by developing special textile high-tech solutions with and for our customers. At the same time, we actively explore new potentials. Most recently with sustainable materials for lightweight construction and research into novel special filtration solutions, for example for the filtration of microplastics. A state-of-the-art textile technology laboratory is planned for this team in the new building.

 

The development of technical textiles in Germany is a success story. From a global perspective, we manage to succeed with mass-produced goods only in exceptional cases. How do you assess the importance of technical textiles made in Germany for the success of other, especially highly technological industries?

Carl Mrusek: We see the future of industry in Europe in individually developed high-tech products. vombaur stands for high-quality, reliable and durable products and made-to-order products. And it is precisely this – custom-fit products, instead of surplus and throwaway goods – that is the future for sustainable business in general.

 

What proportion of your production is generated by being project-based as opposed to a standard range, and to what extent do you still feel comfortable with the term "textile producer"?

Johannes Kauschinger: Our share of special solutions amounts to almost 90 percent. We develop technical textile solutions for our customers' current projects. For this purpose, we are in close contact with the colleagues from our customers' product development departments. Especially in the field of composite textiles, special solutions are in demand. This can be a component for space travel – after all, a spaceship is not manufactured off the peg. We also offer high-quality mass-produced articles, for example in the area of industrial textiles, where we offer round woven tubulars for conveyor belts. In this sense, we are a textile producer, but more than that: we are also a textile developer.

 

In August, Composites Germany presented the results of its 21st market survey. The current business situation is viewed very critically, the investment climate is becoming gloomier and future expectations are turning negative. vombaur also has high-strength textile composites made of carbon, aramid, glass and hybrids in its portfolio. Do you share the assessment of the economic situation as reflected in the survey?

Carl Mrusek: We foresee a very positive development for vombaur because we develop in a very solution-oriented way and offer our customers genuine added value. This is because future technologies in particular require individual, reliable and lightweight components. This ranges from developments for the air taxi to wind turbines. Textiles are a predestined material for the future. The challenge here is also to offer sustainable and recyclable solutions with natural raw materials such as flax and recycled and recyclable plastics and effective separation technologies.

 

There is almost no company nowadays that does not use the current buzzwords such as climate neutrality, circular economy, energy efficiency and renewable energies. What is your company doing in these areas and how do you define the importance of these approaches for commercial success?

Carl Mrusek: vombaur pursues a comprehensive sustainability strategy. Based on the development of our mission statement, we are currently working on a sustainability declaration. Our responsibility for nature will be realised in a very concrete and measurable way through our new building with a green roof and solar system. In our product development, the high sustainability standards – our own and those of our customers – are already flowing into environmentally friendly and resource-saving products and into product developments for sustainable projects such as wind farms or filtration plants.

 

Keyword digitalisation: medium-sized businesses, to which vombaur belongs with its 85 employees, are often scolded for being too reluctant in this area. How would you respond to this accusation?

Johannes Kauschinger:

We often hear about the stack crisis at the present time. Based on this, we could speak of the stack transformation. We, the small and medium-sized enterprises, are transforming ourselves in a number of different dimensions at the same time: Digital transformation, climate neutrality, skilled labour market and population development, independence from the prevailing supply chains. We are capable of change and willing to change. Politics and administration could make it a bit easier for us in some aspects. Key words: transport infrastructure, approval times, energy prices. We do everything we can on our side of the field to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises remain the driving economic force that they are.

 

 

How do you feel about the term shortage of skilled workers? Do you also take unconventional paths to find and retain talent and skilled workers in such a specialised industry? Or does the problem not arise?

Carl Mrusek: Of course, we are also experiencing a shortage of skilled workers, especially in the industrial sector. But the development was foreseeable. The topic played a major role in the decision to move together with our sister company JUMBO-Textil under the umbrella of the Textation Group. Recruiting and promoting young talent can be better mastered together – for example with cross-group campaigns and cooperations.

 

If you had to describe a central personal experience that has shaped your attitude towards the textile industry and its future, what would it be?

Johannes Kauschinger: A very good friend of my family pointed out to me that we live in an area with a very active textile industry, which at the same time has problems finding young talents. I visited two companies for an interview and already on the tour of each company, the interaction of people, machines and textiles up to the wearable end product was truly impressive. In addition, I was able to learn a profession with a very strong connection to everyday life. To this day, I am fascinated by the wide range of possible uses for textiles, especially in technical applications, and I have no regrets whatsoever about the decision I made back then.

Carl Mrusek: I came into contact with the world of textiles and fashion at a young age. I still remember the first time I went through the fully integrated textile production of a company in Nordhorn with my father Rolf Mrusek. Since then, the subject has never left me. Even before I started my studies, I had made a conscious decision to pursue a career in this industry and to this day I have never regretted it, on the contrary. The diversity of the special solutions developed in the Textation Group fascinates me again and again.

 

vombaur is a specialist for seamless round and shaped woven narrow textiles and is known throughout the industry as a development partner for filtration textiles, composite textiles and industrial textiles made of high-performance fibres. Technical narrow textiles from vombaur are used for filtration – in the food and chemical industries, among others. As high-performance composite materials, they are used, for example, in aircraft construction or medical technology. For technical applications, vombaur develops specially coated industrial textiles for insulation, reinforcement or transport in a wide range of industrial processes – from precision mechanics to the construction industry. The Wuppertal-based company was founded in 1805. The company currently employs 85 people.

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Photo: zephylwer0, Pixabay
29.08.2023

Taming a fire: A new way with nanoscale material

High-temperature flames are used to create a wide variety of materials – but once you start a fire, it can be difficult to control how the flame interacts with the material you are trying to process. Researchers have now developed a technique that utilizes a molecule-thin protective layer to control how the flame’s heat interacts with the material – taming the fire and allowing users to finely tune the characteristics of the processed material.

“Fire is a valuable engineering tool – after all, a blast furnace is only an intense fire,” says Martin Thuo, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University. “However, once you start a fire, you often have little control over how it behaves.

High-temperature flames are used to create a wide variety of materials – but once you start a fire, it can be difficult to control how the flame interacts with the material you are trying to process. Researchers have now developed a technique that utilizes a molecule-thin protective layer to control how the flame’s heat interacts with the material – taming the fire and allowing users to finely tune the characteristics of the processed material.

“Fire is a valuable engineering tool – after all, a blast furnace is only an intense fire,” says Martin Thuo, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University. “However, once you start a fire, you often have little control over how it behaves.

“Our technique, which we call inverse thermal degradation (ITD), employs a nanoscale thin film over a targeted material. The thin film changes in response to the heat of the fire, and regulates the amount of oxygen that can access the material. That means we can control the rate at which the material heats up – which, in turn, influences the chemical reactions taking place within the material. Basically, we can fine-tune how and where the fire changes the material.”

Here’s how ITD works. You start out with your target material, such as a cellulose fiber. That fiber is then coated with a nanometer thick layer of molecules. The coated fibers are then exposed to an intense flame. The outer surface of the molecules combusts easily, raising the temperature in the immediate vicinity. But the inner surface of the molecular coating chemically changes, creating an even thinner layer of glass around the cellulose fibers. This glass limits the amount of oxygen that can access the fibers, preventing the cellulose from bursting into flames. Instead, the fibers smolder – burning slowly, from the inside out.

“Without the ITD’s protective layer, applying flame to cellulose fibers would just result in ash,” Thuo says. “With the ITD’s protective layer, you end up with carbon tubes.

“Without the ITD’s protective layer, applying flame to cellulose fibers would just result in ash,” Thuo says. “With the ITD’s protective layer, you end up with carbon tubes.

“We can engineer the protective layer in order to tune the amount of oxygen that reaches the target material. And we can engineer the target material in order to produce desirable characteristics.”

The researchers conducted proof-of-concept demonstrations with cellulose fibers to produce microscale carbon tubes.

The researchers could control the thickness of the carbon tube walls by controlling the size of the cellulose fibers they started with; by introducing various salts to the fibers (which further controls the rate of burning); and by varying the amount of oxygen that passes through the protective layer.

“We have several applications in mind already, which we will be addressing in future studies,” Thuo says. “We’re also open to working with the private sector to explore various practical uses, such as developing engineered carbon tubes for oil-water separation – which would be useful for both industrial applications and environmental remediation.”

The paper, “Spatially Directed Pyrolysis via Thermally Morphing Surface Adducts,” is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Co-authors are Dhanush Jamadgni and Alana Pauls, Ph.D. students at NC State; Julia Chang and Andrew Martin, postdoctoral researchers at NC State; Chuanshen Du, Paul Gregory, Rick Dorn and Aaron Rossini of Iowa State University; and E. Johan Foster at the University of British Columbia.

Source:

North Carolina State University, Matt Shipman

Point of View: Let’s end fast fashion, Prof Minna Halme. Photo: Veera Konsti / Aalto University
18.08.2023

Point of View: Let’s end fast fashion

Focusing on short-term profit isn’t sustainable. So what can we do to move in the right direction: favour resilience over efficiency in all industries.

We buy cheap products knowing we’ll need to replace them soon. We throw out used items rather than repairing or re-using them. Our employers plan in terms of financial quarters despite hoping to remain relevant and resilient longer-term. Even countries prioritise short-term economic output, focusing on gross domestic product (GDP) above any other indicator.

But does this way of living, working and weighing decisions make sense in the 21st century?

Our global obsession with economic short-term efficiency – and how to transform it – is a conundrum that Professor of Sustainability Management Minna Halme has been thinking about for most of her career. Even as a business school student, she felt flummoxed by how focused her classes were on short-term goals.

Focusing on short-term profit isn’t sustainable. So what can we do to move in the right direction: favour resilience over efficiency in all industries.

We buy cheap products knowing we’ll need to replace them soon. We throw out used items rather than repairing or re-using them. Our employers plan in terms of financial quarters despite hoping to remain relevant and resilient longer-term. Even countries prioritise short-term economic output, focusing on gross domestic product (GDP) above any other indicator.

But does this way of living, working and weighing decisions make sense in the 21st century?

Our global obsession with economic short-term efficiency – and how to transform it – is a conundrum that Professor of Sustainability Management Minna Halme has been thinking about for most of her career. Even as a business school student, she felt flummoxed by how focused her classes were on short-term goals.

'It was about selling more, about maximising shareholder profits, about economic growth – but not really asking, Why? What's the purpose of all this?'

Halme says. 'Even 20-year-old me somehow just felt that this was strange.

'What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to create a better economy for all, or most, people? Whose lives are we trying to improve when we are selling more differently-packaged types of yoghurt or clothes that quickly become obsolete?'

Halme has devoted her career to studying these questions. Today, she is a thought leader in innovative business practices, with recognitions including serving on Finland's National Expert Panel for Sustainable Development and on the United Nation's Panel on Global Sustainability.

Her ultimate goal? Pioneering, researching and advocating for alternative ways of thinking that prioritise values like long-term economic sustainability and resilience – alternatives that she and other experts believe would provide more lasting, widespread benefit to all.

How traditional indicators have failed
One way in which our preference for economic efficiency shapes how we measure a country's overall well-being or status is GDP. This isn't the fault of the originator of the modern concept of GDP, who specifically warned against using it in this way in the 1930s.

'GDP was never meant to tell us about the wellbeing of the citizens of a country,' Halme says. Seventy-five years ago, however, it was easy to conflate the two. Many countries were more committed to redistributing their wealth among their citizens, and population surveys show that until the 1970s, GDP often correlated with general wellbeing.

But with the rise of increasingly heedless free-market capitalism, this became less the case – and GDP's shortcomings became all the more apparent. 'We are in a situation where the wealth distribution is more and more trickling up to those who already have capital. Those who don't have it are in declining economic positions,' Halme says. In fact, the richest 1% of the global population now own nearly half of the world's wealth.

Some governments, such as Finland's, do take indicators of environmental and social progress into account. 'But none is considered as important for decision-making as GDP,' Halme says – and GDP is also considered the arbiter of a government's success. It is that attitude that, through her work advising the Finnish government on sustainability practises as well as in her own research, Halme is trying to shift.

Where industries have failed
Our often-exclusive focus on the economy – and, in particular, on making profits as quickly and efficiently as possible – doesn’t provide a clear picture of how everyone in a society is faring. Worse yet, it has encouraged industries to act with a short-term view that makes for longer-term problems.

Fast fashion is one example. At the moment, supply chains for clothing – as for most other goods – are linear. Raw materials come from one place and are transformed step by step, usually at different factories around the world, using materials, energy and transport that are “cheap” because their high environmental costs aren’t included. They are ultimately purchased by a consumer, who wears the product temporarily before discarding it. To expand profit margins, the industry pushes fast-changing trends. A shocking amount of this clothing ends up in landfill – some of it before it's even been worn.

As the COVID lockdowns showed, this kind of linear supply system isn't resilient. Nor is it sustainable.

Currently, fashion is estimated to be the world's second most polluting industry, accounting for up to 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Aalto University researchers have reported that the industry produces more than 92 million tonnes of landfill waste per year. By 2030, that is expected to rise to 134 million tonnes.

Cutting fashion's carbon footprint isn't just good for the environment; it will help the longer-term prospects of the industry itself. 'With this kind of wrong thinking about efficiency, you're eroding the basis of our long-term resilience both for ecology and for society,' Halme says.

Getting out of this trap, she and other researchers say, requires a complete paradigm shift. 'It's really difficult to just tweak around the edges,' she says.

Towards resilience
For several years, Halme researched and studied ecological efficiency, looking at ways that businesses could make more products with a smaller environmental impact. But gradually she realised this wasn't the answer. Although businesses could innovate to have more efficient products and technologies, their absolute use of natural resource use kept growing.

'I began to think, "If not efficiency, then what?"' Halme says. She realised the answer was resilience: fostering ways for systems, including the environment, to continue and even regenerate in the future, rather than continuing to degrade them in the present.

The solution isn’t more of anything, even ‘sustainable’ materials. It’s less.

'The only way to fix fast fashion is to end it,' Halme and her co-authors write. This means designing clothes to last, business models that make reuse and repair more accessible, and prioritising upcycling. Recycling systems also need to be overhauled for when an item really is at the end of its life – particularly regarding blended synthetic fibres, which are difficult to separate and break down.

This would upend the current focus on short-term revenue above all else. And, says Halme, it is one more example of how we need better ways to measure the success of these industries, taking into account factors like resilience and sustainability – rather than just short-term profits.

And while individuals can make an impact, these changes ultimately have to be industry-led.

'Textiles are a good example, because if they break quickly, and if you don't have repair services nearby, or if the fabrics are of such lousy quality that it doesn't make any sense to repair them, then it's too much trouble for most people,' Halme says. 'So most solutions should come from the business side. And the attempt should be to make it both fashionable and easy for consumers to make ecologically and socially sustainable choices.'

What will it take?
The ultimate challenge, says Lauri Saarinen, Assistant Professor at the Aalto University Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, is how to shift towards a more sustainable model while keeping companies competitive. But he believes there are ways.

One option is to keep production local. 'If we compete with low-cost, offshore manufacturing by doing things more locally, and in a closed loop, then we get the double benefit of actually providing some local work and moving towards a more sustainable supply chain,' Saarinen says. For example, if clothing were produced closer to consumers, it would be easier to send garments back for repair or for brands to take back used items and resell them.

Local production is yet another example of the need to rethink how we measure societal success. After all, outsourcing and offshoring in favour of cheaper production may appear to cut costs in short term, but this is done at the expense of what Halme and other experts argue really matters – longer-term economic viability, resilience and sustainability.

Shifting towards this kind of thinking isn't easy. Still, Saarinen and Halme have seen promising signs.

In Finland, for example, Halme points to the start-up Menddie, which makes it easy and convenient to send items away for repairs or alterations. She also highlights the clothing and lifestyle brand Marimekko, which re-sells its used items in an online secondhand shop, and the Anna Ruohonen label, a made-to-measurecollection and customer on-demand concept which creates no excess garments.

It's these kinds of projects that Halme finds interesting – and that, through her work, she hopes to both advocate for and pioneer.

At the moment, she says, these changes haven't yet added up to a true transformation. On a global scale, we remain far from a genuine shift towards longer-term resilience. But as she points out, that can change quickly. After all, it has in the past. Just look at what got us here.

'The pursuit of economic growth became such a dominant focus in a relatively short time – only about seven decades,' she says. 'The shift toward longer-term resilience is certainly possible. Scientists and decision-makers just need to change their main goal to long-term resilience. The key question is, are our most powerful economic players wise enough to do so?'

As part of her research, Halme has led projects pioneering the kinds of changes that the fashion industry could adapt. For example, along with her Aalto colleague Linda Turunen, she recently developed a measurement that the fashion industry could use to classify how sustainable a product really is – measuring things like its durability, how easily it can be recycled, and whether its production uses hazardous chemicals – which could help consumers to decide whether to buy. Her colleagues curated a recent exhibition that showcased what we might be wearing in a sustainable future, such as a leather alternative made from discarded flower cuttings, or modular designs to get multiple uses from the same garment – turning a skirt into a shirt, for example.
 
Because all of this requires longer-term thinking, innovation and investment, industry is reticent to make these shifts, Halme says. One way to encourage industries to change more quickly is with regulation. In the European Union, for example, an updated set of directives now requires companies with more than 500 employees to report on a number of corporate responsibility factors, ranging from environmental impact to the treatment of employees. These rules won't just help inform consumers, investors and other stakeholders about a company's role in global challenges. They’ll also help assess investment risks – weighing whether a company is taking the actions necessary to be financially resilient in the long-term.

Source:

Aalto University, Amanda Ruggeri

chemical protective suits Photo: Pixabay, Alexander Lesnitsky
31.07.2023

DITF: Newly developed concept for chemical protective suits

A newly developed concept for chemical protective suits is designed to make use more comfortable and safer for the user. New materials and an improved design increase wearer comfort. The integration of sensor technology enables the monitoring of vital functions.

In the event of hazards from chemical, biological or radioactive substances, chemical protective suits (CSA) protect people from physical contact. CSAs consist of breathing apparatus, head protection, carrying frames and the suit itself. This adds up to a weight of around 25 kg. The construction of a multi-coated fabric makes the CSA stiff and provides for considerable restrictions in freedom of movement. As a result, the emergency forces are exposed to significant physical stress. For this reason, the total deployment time when using a CSA is limited to 30 minutes.

A newly developed concept for chemical protective suits is designed to make use more comfortable and safer for the user. New materials and an improved design increase wearer comfort. The integration of sensor technology enables the monitoring of vital functions.

In the event of hazards from chemical, biological or radioactive substances, chemical protective suits (CSA) protect people from physical contact. CSAs consist of breathing apparatus, head protection, carrying frames and the suit itself. This adds up to a weight of around 25 kg. The construction of a multi-coated fabric makes the CSA stiff and provides for considerable restrictions in freedom of movement. As a result, the emergency forces are exposed to significant physical stress. For this reason, the total deployment time when using a CSA is limited to 30 minutes.

In a joint project with various companies, institutes and professional fire departments, work is currently underway to completely redesign both the textile material composite and the hard components and connecting elements between the two. The goal is a so-called "AgiCSA", which offers significantly more comfort for the emergency forces due to its lighter and more flexible construction. The DITF subproject focuses on the development of a more individually adaptable, body-hugging suit on the one hand, and on the integration of sensors that serve the online monitoring of important body functions of the emergency personnel on the other.

At the beginning of the project, the DITF received support from the Esslingen Fire Department. They provided a complete CSA that is used as standard today. This could be tested at the DITF for its wearing properties. The researchers in Denkendorf are investigating where there is a need for optimization to improve ergonomic wearing comfort.

The aim is to construct a chemical- and gas-tight suit that fits relatively closely to the body. It quickly became clear that it was necessary to move away from the previous concept of using woven fabrics as the basic textile material and think in terms of elastic knitted fabrics. In implementing this idea, the researchers were helped by recent developments in the field of knitted fabric technology in the form of spacer fabrics. By using spacer textiles, many of the requirements placed on the base substrate can be met very well.

Spacer textiles have a voluminous, elastic structure. From a wide range of usable fiber types and three-dimensional design features, a 3 mm thick spacer textile made of a polyester pile yarn and a flame-retardant fiber blend of aramid and viscose was selected for the new CSA. This textile is coated on both sides with fluorinated or butyl rubber. This gives the textile a barrier function that prevents the penetration of toxic liquids and gases. The coating is applied to the finished suit by a newly developed spraying process. The advantage of this process over the conventional coating process is that the desired elasticity of the suit is retained.

Another innovation is the integration of a diagonal zipper. This makes it easier to put on and take off the suit. Whereas this was previously only possible with the help of another person, the new suit can in principle be put on by the emergency responder alone. The new design is modeled on modern dry suits with diagonal, gas-tight zippers.
The new AgiSCA also features integrated sensors that allow the transmission and monitoring of the vital and environmental data of the emergency worker as well as their location via GPS data. These additional functions significantly enhance operational safety.

For the hard components, i.e. the helmet and the backpack for the compressed air supply, lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced composite materials from Wings and More GmbH & Co. KG are used.
The first demonstrators are available and are available to the project partners for testing purposes. The combination of current textile technology, lightweight construction concepts and IT integration in textiles has led to a comprehensive improvement of a high-tech product in this project.
 
BMBF project "Development of a chemical protection suit with increased mobility for more efficient operational concepts through increased autonomy of the emergency forces (AgiCSA)".
The project addresses the objectives of the Federal Government's framework program "Research for Civil Security 2018-2023 and the funding measure "SME-innovative: Research for Civil Security" of July 3, 2018.

 

Source:

DITF Deutsche Institute für Textil- und Faserforschung

Swijin Inage Swijin
20.06.2023

Innovative sportswear: Swim and run without changing

Just in time for summer: The Swiss start-up Swijin is launching a new sportswear category with its SwimRunner – a sports bra together with matching bottoms that works as both swimwear and running gear and dries in no time. The innovative product was developed together with Empa researchers in an Innosuisse project. The SwimRunner can be tested this weekend at the Zurich City Triathlon.
 
A quick dip after jogging without having to change clothes? Swijin (pronounced Swie-Djin), a new Swiss TechTex start-up, is launching its first product, the SwimRunner: a sports bra and bottoms that function as both swimwear and running gear and dry in a flash.

Just in time for summer: The Swiss start-up Swijin is launching a new sportswear category with its SwimRunner – a sports bra together with matching bottoms that works as both swimwear and running gear and dries in no time. The innovative product was developed together with Empa researchers in an Innosuisse project. The SwimRunner can be tested this weekend at the Zurich City Triathlon.
 
A quick dip after jogging without having to change clothes? Swijin (pronounced Swie-Djin), a new Swiss TechTex start-up, is launching its first product, the SwimRunner: a sports bra and bottoms that function as both swimwear and running gear and dry in a flash.

For the first time, this innovation enables women to make a smooth transition between land and water sports without having to change clothes. For example, hikers and runners can easily go into the water to cool off. Stand-up paddlers wearing the SwimRunner enjoy unrestricted freedom of movement and at the same time sufficient support, both on the board and in the water.
Science to boost sports performance
 
What appears to be a relatively simple requirement at first glance has turned out to be an extremely complex product to develop. As part of an Innosuisse project, Swijin collaborated with the Empa Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles laboratory in St. Gallen. Led by Empa engineer Martin Camenzind, the researchers first defined the requirements for the material and cut of the sports bra. "During development, we faced three main challenges: On the one hand, the product had to meet the requirements of a heavy-duty sports bra on land. At the same time, it had to maintain the compression of a swimsuit in the water – and do so with a very short drying time," says Camenzind.

Since no comparable garment exists on the market yet, the team also developed new tests for evaluating the high-performance textile. "Moreover, we designed a mannequin: a model of the female torso that can be used to measure the mechanical properties of bras," explains the researcher. In addition to scientific findings, the product development process also incorporated a great deal of expertise from sports physiologists, textile engineers, industry specialists, designers and, of course, female athletes.

Highest demands
Many of these athletes come from the swimrun scene. Swimrun is a fast-growing adventure sport that originated in the skerry gardens of Sweden. Unlike triathletes, who start out by swimming, then bike, and finally run, swimrunners switch back and forth between trail running and open water swimming throughout the race. The intensity of this sport provided Swijin with the optimal conditions for product development – and gave its name to the first collection, SwimRunner. "The feedback from female athletes was one of the deciding factors for the success of the product. They often swim and run for six to seven hours at a stretch. When they were satisfied with our prototypes, we knew: The SwimRunner is ready for market," says Swijin founder Claudia Glass.

The product idea first came to Claudia Glass while she was on vacation on Mallorca. During her morning runs, she longed to be able to take a quick dip in the sea. "Sports bras, however, are not designed for swimming," the founder explains. "They soak up the water and never seem to dry because of their thick compression material. Last summer, I wore the SwimRunner prototype all day. In the morning, I ran to Lake Zurich with my dog and jumped in. When I got back home, I could have just sat down at my desk and started working – I was completely dry and felt very comfortable."

Design and sustainability
The young company makes a point of combining engineering and design. Swijin's creative director, Valeria Cereda, is based in the center of the world's fashion capital, Milan, and infuses her experience with luxury brands into Swijin's aesthetic. But as a former competitive swimmer, she is also focused on functionality.

Swijin's high-performance products can only be realized with synthetic materials. The young company is determined to reduce the environmental impact of its products to a minimum. The tight supply chain keeps the CO2 footprint low. The materials of the SwimRunner are 100% made in the EU and designed for quality.

Traditional garment labels only provide information about where the garment was made. Swijin is working with supplier Avery Dennison to provide all products with a Digital Identity Label. This gives consumers detailed information about the entire value chain, right down to the textile manufacturer's investment in reducing its carbon footprint and the use of the water-based, solvent-free logo. Swijin packages all materials in Cradle-to-Cradle Gold certified packaging, which is produced by Voegeli AG in Emmental.

Furthermore, Swijin proactively addresses the challenges at the end of the product life cycle. In order to come one step closer to a truly circular economy for functional textiles, Swijin participates in the Yarn-to-Yarn® pilot project of Rheiazymes AG as a lighthouse partner. This biotech solution uses microorganisms and enzymes to generate new starting materials directly from used textiles in a climate-neutral way. When customers return end-of-life Swijin products – for which the company offers incentives – the high-quality monomers can be returned to the supply chain in their original quality: true circularity.

"As an emerging brand, we have both the obligation and the luxury of choosing partners whose vision and values align with our own," says Claudia Glass. "I had a clear understanding of what kind of brand I would buy, but I couldn't find it anywhere. With Swijin, we feel obligated to actually make our values a reality."

Source:

Claudia Glass, Anna Ettlin, EMPA

Photo: Unsplash
13.06.2023

The impact of textile production and waste on the environment

  • With fast fashion, the quantity of clothes produced and thrown away has boomed.

Fast fashion is the constant provision of new styles at very low prices. To tackle the impact on the environment, the EU wants to reduce textile waste and increase the life cycle and recycling of textiles. This is part of the plan to achieve a circular economy by 2050.

Overconsumption of natural resources
It takes a lot of water to produce textile, plus land to grow cotton and other fibres. It is estimated that the global textile and clothing industry used 79 billion cubic metres of water in 2015, while the needs of the EU's whole economy amounted to 266 billion cubic metres in 2017.

To make a single cotton t-shirt, 2,700 litres of fresh water are required according to estimates, enough to meet one person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years.

  • With fast fashion, the quantity of clothes produced and thrown away has boomed.

Fast fashion is the constant provision of new styles at very low prices. To tackle the impact on the environment, the EU wants to reduce textile waste and increase the life cycle and recycling of textiles. This is part of the plan to achieve a circular economy by 2050.

Overconsumption of natural resources
It takes a lot of water to produce textile, plus land to grow cotton and other fibres. It is estimated that the global textile and clothing industry used 79 billion cubic metres of water in 2015, while the needs of the EU's whole economy amounted to 266 billion cubic metres in 2017.

To make a single cotton t-shirt, 2,700 litres of fresh water are required according to estimates, enough to meet one person’s drinking needs for 2.5 years.

The textile sector was the third largest source of water degradation and land use in 2020. In that year, it took on average nine cubic metres of water, 400 square metres of land and 391 kilogrammes (kg) of raw materials to provide clothes and shoes for each EU citizen.

Water pollution
Textile production is estimated to be responsible for about 20% of global clean water pollution from dyeing and finishing products.

Laundering synthetic clothes accounts for 35% of primary microplastics released into the environment. A single laundry load of polyester clothes can discharge 700,000 microplastic fibres that can end up in the food chain.

The majority of microplastics from textiles are released during the first few washes. Fast fashion is based on mass production, low prices and high sales volumes that promotes many first washes.

Washing synthetic products has caused more than 14 million tonnes of microplastics to accumulate on the bottom of the oceans. In addition to this global problem, the pollution generated by garment production has a devastating impact on the health of local people, animals and ecosystems where the factories are located.

Greenhouse gas emissions
The fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.

According to the European Environment Agency, textile purchases in the EU in 2020 generated about 270 kg of CO2 emissions per person. That means textile products consumed in the EU generated greenhouse gas emissions of 121 million tonnes.

Textile waste in landfills and low recycling rates
The way people get rid of unwanted clothes has also changed, with items being thrown away rather than donated. Less than half of used clothes are collected for reuse or recycling, and only 1% of used clothes are recycled into new clothes, since technologies that would enable clothes to be recycled into virgin fibres are only now starting to emerge.

Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production doubled, while the average use of an item of clothing has decreased.

Europeans use nearly 26 kilos of textiles and discard about 11 kilos of them every year. Used clothes can be exported outside the EU, but are mostly (87%) incinerated or landfilled.

The rise of fast fashion has been crucial in the increase in consumption, driven partly by social media and the industry bringing fashion trends to more consumers at a faster pace than in the past.

The new strategies to tackle this issue include developing new business models for clothing rental, designing products in a way that would make re-use and recycling easier (circular fashion), convincing consumers to buy fewer clothes of better quality (slow fashion) and generally steering consumer behaviour towards more sustainable options.

Work in progress: the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles
As part of the circular economy action plan, the European Commission presented in March 2022 a new strategy to make textiles more durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable, tackle fast fashion and stimulate innovation within the sector.

The new strategy includes new ecodesign requirements for textiles, clearer information, a Digital Product Passport and calls companies to take responsibility and act to minimise their carbon and environmental footprints

On 1 June 2023, MEPs set out proposals for tougher EU measures to halt the excessive production and consumption of textiles. Parliament’s report calls for textiles to be produced respecting human, social and labour rights, as well as the environment and animal welfare.

Existing EU measures to tackle textile waste
Under the waste directive approved by the Parliament in 2018, EU countries are obliged to collect textiles separately by 2025. The new Commission strategy also includes measures to, tackle the presence of hazardous chemicals, calls producers have to take responsibility for their products along the value chain, including when they become wasteand help consumers to choose sustainable textiles.

The EU has an EU Ecolabel that producers respecting ecological criteria can apply to items, ensuring a limited use of harmful substances and reduced water and air pollution.

The EU has also introduced some measures to mitigate the impact of textile waste on the environment. Horizon 2020 funds Resyntex, a project using chemical recycling, which could provide a circular economy business model for the textile industry.

A more sustainable model of textile production also has the potential to boost the economy. "Europe finds itself in an unprecedented health and economic crisis, revealing the fragility of our global supply chains," said lead MEP Huitema. "Stimulating new innovative business models will in turn create new economic growth and the job opportunities Europe will need to recover."

The plasma atmosphere is clearly visible in the reactor through the characteristic glow and flashes of light. © Fraunhofer IGB The plasma atmosphere is clearly visible in the reactor through the characteristic glow and flashes of light.
16.05.2023

Wastewater treatment: Plasma against toxic PFAS chemicals

Harmful PFAS chemicals can now be detected in many soils and bodies of water. Removing them using conventional filter techniques is costly and almost infeasible. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB are now successfully implementing a plasma-based technology in the AtWaPlas joint research project. Contaminated water is fed into a combined glass and stainless steel cylinder where it is then treated with ionized gas, i.e. plasma. This reduces the PFAS molecular chains, allowing the toxic substance to be removed at a low cost.

Harmful PFAS chemicals can now be detected in many soils and bodies of water. Removing them using conventional filter techniques is costly and almost infeasible. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB are now successfully implementing a plasma-based technology in the AtWaPlas joint research project. Contaminated water is fed into a combined glass and stainless steel cylinder where it is then treated with ionized gas, i.e. plasma. This reduces the PFAS molecular chains, allowing the toxic substance to be removed at a low cost.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have many special properties. As they are thermally and chemically stable as well as resistant to water, grease and dirt, they can be found in a large number of everyday products: Pizza boxes and baking paper are coated with them, for example, and shampoos and creams also contain PFAS. In industry they serve as extinguishing and wetting agents, and in agriculture they are used in plant protection products. However, traces of PFAS are now also being detected where they should not be found: in soil, rivers and groundwater, in food and in drinking water. This is how the harmful substances end up in the human body. Due to their chemical stability, eliminating these so-called “forever chemicals” has been almost impossible up to now without considerable effort and expense.

The AtWaPlas joint research project aims to change that. The acronym stands for Atmospheric Water Plasma Treatment. The innovative project is currently being run at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart in cooperation with the industrial partner HYDR.O. Geologen und Ingenieure GbR from Aachen. The aim is to treat and recover PFAS-contaminated water using plasma treatment.

The research team led by Dr. Georg Umlauf, an expert in functional surfaces and materials, utilizes plasma’s ability to attack the molecular chains of substances. The electrically conductive gas consisting of electrons and ions is generated when high voltage is applied. “Our experiments with plasma have been successful in shortening the PFAS molecule chains in water. This is a significant step towards efficiently removing these stubborn pollutants,” Umlauf is happy to report.

Water cycle in a stainless steel cylinder
Fraunhofer researchers are using a cylindrical construction for this plasma process. Inside is a stainless steel tube, which serves as the ground electrode of the electrical circuit. The outer copper mesh then acts as a high-voltage electrode and is protected on the inside by a glass dielectric. A very small gap is left between the two, which is filled with an air mixture. This air mixture is converted into plasma when a voltage of several kilovolts is applied. It is visible to the human eye by its characteristic glow and discharge as flashes of light.

During the purification process, the PFAS-contaminated water is introduced at the bottom of the stainless steel tank and pumped upwards. It then travels down through the gap between the electrodes, passing through the electrically active plasma atmosphere. The plasma breaks up and shortens the PFAS molecule chains as it discharges. The water is repeatedly pumped through both the steel reactor and the plasma discharge zone in a closed circuit, reducing the PFAS molecule chains further each time until they are completely mineralized. “Ideally, the harmful PFAS substances are eliminated to the point that they can no longer be detected in mass spectrometric measurements. This also complies with the strict German Drinking Water Ordinance (TrinkwV) regulations regarding PFAS concentrations,” says Umlauf.

The technology developed at the Fraunhofer Institute has a key advantage over conventional methods such as active carbon filtering: “Active carbon filters can bind the harmful substances, but they are unable to eliminate them. This means that the filters must be replaced and disposed of regularly. The AtWaPlas technology, on the other hand, is capable of completely eliminating the harmful substances without any residue and is very efficient and low-maintenance,” explains Fraunhofer expert Umlauf.

Real water samples instead of synthetic laboratory samples
In order to ensure true feasibility, the Fraunhofer researchers are testing the plasma purification under more challenging conditions. Conventional test methods involve using perfectly clean water and PFAS solutions that have been synthetically mixed in the laboratory. However, the research team in Stuttgart is using “real” water samples that come from PFAS-contaminated areas. The samples are collected by the project partner HYDR.O. Geologen und Ingenieure GbR from Aachen. The company specializes in cleaning up contaminated sites and also carries out hydrodynamic simulations.

The real water samples that Umlauf and his team work with therefore contain PFAS as well as other particles, suspended solids and organic turbidity. “This is how we verify the purification efficiency of AtWaPlas, not only using synthetic laboratory samples, but also under real conditions with changing water qualities. The process parameters can be adapted and further developed at the same time,” explains Umlauf.

This plasma method can also be used to break down other harmful substances, including pharmaceutical residues in wastewater, pesticides and herbicides, but also industrial chemicals such as cyanides. AtWaPlas can also be used to treat drinking water in mobile applications in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.

The AtWaPlas joint research project launched in JuIy 2021. After a successful series of pilot-scale tests with a 5 liter reactor, the Fraunhofer team is now working with the joint research partner to further optimize the process. Georg Umlauf states: “Our current objective is to completely eliminate toxic PFAS by extending process times and increasing the number of circulations in the tank. We also want to make the AtWaPlas technology available for practical application on a larger scale.” The future could see corresponding plants set up as standalone purification stages in sewage treatment plants or used in portable containers on contaminated open-air sites.

Source:

Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB

intelligent fabrics (c) Sanghyo Lee
24.04.2023

Cheaper method for making woven displays and smart fabrics

Researchers have developed next-generation smart textiles – incorporating LEDs, sensors, energy harvesting, and storage – that can be produced inexpensively, in any shape or size, using conventional industrial looms used to make the clothing worn every day.
 
An international team, led by the University of Cambridge, have previously demonstrated that woven displays can be made at large sizes, but these earlier examples were made using specialised manual laboratory equipment. Other smart textiles can be manufactured in specialised microelectronic fabrication facilities, but these are highly expensive and produce large volumes of waste.

Researchers have developed next-generation smart textiles – incorporating LEDs, sensors, energy harvesting, and storage – that can be produced inexpensively, in any shape or size, using conventional industrial looms used to make the clothing worn every day.
 
An international team, led by the University of Cambridge, have previously demonstrated that woven displays can be made at large sizes, but these earlier examples were made using specialised manual laboratory equipment. Other smart textiles can be manufactured in specialised microelectronic fabrication facilities, but these are highly expensive and produce large volumes of waste.

However, the team found that flexible displays and smart fabrics can be made much more cheaply, and more sustainably, by weaving electronic, optoelectronic, sensing and energy fibre components on the same industrial looms used to make conventional textiles. Their results, reported in the journal Science Advances, demonstrate how smart textiles could be an alternative to larger electronics in sectors including automotive, electronics, fashion and construction.

Despite recent progress in the development of smart textiles, their functionality, dimensions and shapes have been limited by current manufacturing processes.
“We could make these textiles in specialised microelectronics facilities, but these require billions of pounds of investment,” said Dr Sanghyo Lee from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s first author. “In addition, manufacturing smart textiles in this way is highly limited, since everything has to be made on the same rigid wafers used to make integrated circuits, so the maximum size we can get is about 30 centimetres in diameter.”

“Smart textiles have also been limited by their lack of practicality,” said Dr Luigi Occhipinti, also from the Department of Engineering, who co-led the research. “You think of the sort of bending, stretching and folding that normal fabrics have to withstand, and it’s been a challenge to incorporate that same durability into smart textiles.”
Last year, some of the same researchers showed that if the fibres used in smart textiles were coated with materials that can withstand stretching, they could be compatible with conventional weaving processes. Using this technique, they produced a 46-inch woven demonstrator display.

Now, the researchers have shown that smart textiles can be made using automated processes, with no limits on their size or shape. Multiple types of fibre devices, including energy storage devices, light-emitting diodes, and transistors were fabricated, encapsulated, and mixed with conventional fibres, either synthetic or natural, to build smart textiles by automated weaving. The fibre devices were interconnected by an automated laser welding method with electrically conductive adhesive.
 
The processes were all optimised to minimise damage to the electronic components, which in turn made the smart textiles durable enough to withstand the stretching of an industrial weaving machine. The encapsulation method was developed to consider the functionality of the fibre devices, and the mechanical force and thermal energy were investigated systematically to achieve automated weaving and laser-based interconnection, respectively.

The research team, working in partnership with textile manufacturers, were able to produce test patches of smart textiles of roughly 50x50 centimetres, although this can be scaled up to larger dimensions and produced in large volumes.
 
“These companies have well-established manufacturing lines with high throughput fibre extruders and large weaving machines that can weave a metre square of textiles automatically,” said Lee. “So when we introduce the smart fibres to the process, the result is basically an electronic system that is manufactured exactly the same way other textiles are manufactured.”
The researchers say it could be possible for large, flexible displays and monitors to be made on industrial looms, rather than in specialised electronics manufacturing facilities, which would make them far cheaper to produce. Further optimisation of the process is needed, however.

“The flexibility of these textiles is absolutely amazing,” said Occhipinti. “Not just in terms of their mechanical flexibility, but the flexibility of the approach, and to deploy sustainable and eco-friendly electronics manufacturing platforms that contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions and enable real applications of smart textiles in buildings, car interiors and clothing. Our approach is quite unique in that way.”

The research was supported in part by the European Union and UK Research and Innovation.

Source:

University of Cambridge

(c) Fraunhofer WKI
19.04.2023

Sustainable natural-fiber reinforcement for textile-reinforced concrete components

Textile-reinforced concrete components with a sustainable natural-fiber reinforcement possess sufficient bond and tensile load-bearing behavior for the utilization in construction. This has been verified by researchers at the Fraunhofer WKI in collaboration with Biberach University of Applied Sciences and the industrial partner FABRINO. In the future, textile-reinforced components with natural-fiber reinforcement could therefore replace conventionally reinforced concrete components and improve the environmental balance in the construction industry.

Textile-reinforced concrete components with a sustainable natural-fiber reinforcement possess sufficient bond and tensile load-bearing behavior for the utilization in construction. This has been verified by researchers at the Fraunhofer WKI in collaboration with Biberach University of Applied Sciences and the industrial partner FABRINO. In the future, textile-reinforced components with natural-fiber reinforcement could therefore replace conventionally reinforced concrete components and improve the environmental balance in the construction industry.

Non-metallic reinforcements for concrete elements are currently often made from various synthetically produced fibers - for example from glass or carbon fibers. An ecological alternative to synthetic fibers is provided by flax or other natural fibers. These are widely available and are more sustainable, due, amongst other things, to their renewable raw-material basis, the advantages regarding recycling, and the lower energy requirements during production. This is where the researchers from the Fraunhofer WKI and Biberach University of Applied Sciences, in collaboration with an industrial partner, became active. Their goal was to demonstrate that reinforcements made from textile fibers are just as suitable for utilization in construction as synthetic fibers.

"At the Fraunhofer WKI, we have produced leno fabrics from flax-fiber yarn using a weaving machine. In order to enhance sustainability, we tested a treatment of the flax yarns for improving the tensile strength, durability and adhesion which is ecologically advantageous compared to petro-based treatments," explained Jana Winkelmann, Project Manager at the Fraunhofer WKI. In the coating process, a commonly used petro-based epoxy resin was successfully replaced by a partially bio-based impregnation. A large proportion (56%) of the molecular structure of the utilized epoxy resin consists of hydrocarbons of plant origin and can therefore improve the CO2 balance.

Textile reinforcements have a number of fundamental advantages. They exhibit, for example, significantly reduced corrodibility at the same or higher tensile strength than steel, with the result that the necessary nominal dimension of the concrete covering can be reduced. This often allows smaller cross-sections to be required for the same load-bearing capacity. Up to now, however, the load-bearing behavior of textile reinforcements made from natural fibers in concrete components has not been systematically investigated.

At Biberach University of Applied Sciences, researchers tested the bond and tensile load-bearing behavior as well as the uniaxial flexural load-bearing behavior of concrete components with textile reinforcement made from flax fibers. The scientists came to the conclusion that the natural-fiber-based textile-reinforced components with a bio-based impregnation are fundamentally suitable. The suitability was demonstrated by both a significant increase in the breaking load compared to non-reinforced and under-reinforced concrete components and in finely distributed crack patterns. The curves of the stress-strain diagrams could be divided into three ranges typical for reinforced expansion elements (State I - non-cracked, State IIa - initial cracking, and State IIb - final crack pattern). The delineation of the ranges becomes more pronounced as the degree of reinforcement increases.

As a whole, regionally or Europe-wide available, renewable natural fibers and a partially bio-based coating contribute towards an improvement of the CO2 footprint of the construction industry. As a result, a further opportunity is being opened up for the energy- and raw-material-intensive construction industry in terms of meeting increasingly stringent environmental and sustainability requirements. "Textile-reinforced concretes enable lighter and more slender structures and therefore offer architectural leeway. We would like to continue our research into the numerous application possibilities of natural-fiber-reinforced concretes," said Christina Haxter, a staff member at the Fraunhofer WKI.

The project, which ran from 9th December 2020 to 31st December 2022, was funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU).   

sports Photo Pixabay
21.03.2023

3D-printed insoles measure sole pressure directly in the shoe

  • For sports and physiotherapy alike

Researchers at ETH Zurich, Empa and EPFL are developing a 3D-printed insole with integrated sensors that allows the pressure of the sole to be measured in the shoe and thus during any activity. This helps athletes or patients to determine performance and therapy progress.

In elite sports, fractions of a second sometimes make the difference between victory and defeat. To optimize their performance, athletes use custom-made insoles. But people with musculoskeletal pain also turn to insoles to combat their discomfort.

  • For sports and physiotherapy alike

Researchers at ETH Zurich, Empa and EPFL are developing a 3D-printed insole with integrated sensors that allows the pressure of the sole to be measured in the shoe and thus during any activity. This helps athletes or patients to determine performance and therapy progress.

In elite sports, fractions of a second sometimes make the difference between victory and defeat. To optimize their performance, athletes use custom-made insoles. But people with musculoskeletal pain also turn to insoles to combat their discomfort.

Before specialists can accurately fit such insoles, they must first create a pressure profile of the feet. To this end, athletes or patients have to walk barefoot over pressure-sensitive mats, where they leave their individual footprints. Based on this pressure profile, orthopaedists then create customised insoles by hand. The problem with this approach is that optimisations and adjustments take time. Another disadvantage is that the pressure-sensitive mats allow measurements only in a confined space, but not during workouts or outdoor activities.

Now an invention by a research team from ETH Zurich, Empa and EPFL could greatly improve things. The researchers used 3D printing to produce a customised insole with integrated pressure sensors that can measure the pressure on the sole of the foot directly in the shoe during various activities.

“You can tell from the pressure patterns detected whether someone is walking, running, climbing stairs, or even carrying a heavy load on their back – in which case the pressure shifts more to the heel,” explains co-project leader Gilberto Siqueira, Senior Assistant at Empa and at ETH Complex Materials Laboratory. This makes tedious mat tests a thing of the past. The invention was recently featured in the journal Scientific Reports.

One device, multiple inks
These insoles aren’t just easy to use, they’re also easy to make. They are produced in just one step – including the integrated sensors and conductors – using a single 3D printer, called an extruder.

For printing, the researchers use various inks developed specifically for this application. As the basis for the insole, the materials scientists use a mixture of silicone and cellulose nanoparticles.
Next, they print the conductors on this first layer using a conductive ink containing silver. They then print the sensors on the conductors in individual places using ink that contains carbon black. The sensors aren’t distributed at random: they are placed exactly where the foot sole pressure is greatest. To protect the sensors and conductors, the researchers coat them with another layer of silicone.

An initial difficulty was to achieve good adhesion between the different material layers. The researchers resolved this by treating the surface of the silicone layers with hot plasma.
As sensors for measuring normal and shear forces, they use piezo components, which convert mechanical pressure into electrical signals. In addition, the researchers have built an interface into the sole for reading out the generated data.

Running data soon to be read out wirelessly
Tests showed the researchers that the additively manufactured insole works well. “So with data analysis, we can actually identify different activities based on which sensors responded and how strong that response was,” Siqueira says.

At the moment, Siqueira and his colleagues still need a cable connection to read out the data; to this end, they have installed a contact on the side of the insole. One of the next development steps, he says, will be to create a wireless connection. “However, reading out the data hasn’t been the main focus of our work so far.”

In the future, 3D-printed insoles with integrated sensors could be used by athletes or in physiotherapy, for example to measure training or therapy progress. Based on such measurement data, training plans can then be adjusted and permanent shoe insoles with different hard and soft zones can be produced using 3D printing.

Although Siqueira believes there is strong market potential for their product, especially in elite sports, his team hasn’t yet taken any steps towards commercialisation.

Researchers from Empa, ETH Zurich and EPFL were involved in the development of the insole. EPFL researcher Danick Briand coordinated the project, and his group supplied the sensors, while the ETH and Empa researchers developed the inks and the printing platform. Also involved in the project were the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) and orthopaedics company Numo. The project was funded by the ETH Domain’s Advanced Manufacturing Strategic Focus Areas programme.

Source:

Peter Rüegg, ETH Zürich

In the future, one will be able to use their phone to read the clothing woven-in labels made with inexpensive photonic fibers. (c) Marcin Szczepanski/Lead Multimedia Storyteller, University of Michigan College of Engineering. In the future, one will be able to use their phone to read the clothing woven-in labels made with inexpensive photonic fibers.
15.02.2023

The new butterfly effect: A ‘game changer’ for clothing recycling?

Photonic fibers borrow from butterfly wings to enable invisible, indelible sorting labels

Less than 15% of the 92 million tons of clothing and other textiles discarded annually are recycled—in part because they are so difficult to sort. Woven-in labels made with inexpensive photonic fibers, developed by a University of Michigan-led team, could change that.
 
“It’s like a barcode that’s woven directly into the fabric of a garment,” said Max Shtein, U-M professor of materials science and engineering and corresponding author of the study in Advanced Materials Technologies. “We can customize the photonic properties of the fibers to make them visible to the naked eye, readable only under near-infrared light or any combination.”

Photonic fibers borrow from butterfly wings to enable invisible, indelible sorting labels

Less than 15% of the 92 million tons of clothing and other textiles discarded annually are recycled—in part because they are so difficult to sort. Woven-in labels made with inexpensive photonic fibers, developed by a University of Michigan-led team, could change that.
 
“It’s like a barcode that’s woven directly into the fabric of a garment,” said Max Shtein, U-M professor of materials science and engineering and corresponding author of the study in Advanced Materials Technologies. “We can customize the photonic properties of the fibers to make them visible to the naked eye, readable only under near-infrared light or any combination.”

Ordinary tags often don’t make it to the end of a garment’s life—they may be cut away or washed until illegible, and tagless information can wear off. Recycling could be more effective if a tag was woven into the fabric, invisible until it needs to be read. This is what the new fiber could do.
 
Recyclers already use near-infrared sorting systems that identify different materials according to their naturally occurring optical signatures—the PET plastic in a water bottle, for example, looks different under near-infrared light than the HDPE plastic in a milk jug. Different fabrics also have different optical signatures, but Brian Iezzi, a postdoctoral researcher in Shtein’s lab and lead author of the study, explains that those signatures are of limited use to recyclers because of the prevalence of blended fabrics.

“For a truly circular recycling system to work, it’s important to know the precise composition of a fabric—a cotton recycler doesn’t want to pay for a garment that’s made of 70% polyester,” Iezzi said. “Natural optical signatures can’t provide that level of precision, but our photonic fibers can.”

The team developed the technology by combining Iezzi and Shtein’s photonic expertise—usually applied to products like displays, solar cells and optical filters—with the advanced textile capabilities at MIT’s Lincoln Lab. The lab worked to incorporate the photonic properties into a process that would be compatible with large-scale production.
 
They accomplished the task by starting with a preform—a plastic feedstock that comprises dozens of alternating layers. In this case, they used acrylic and polycarbonate. While each individual layer is clear, the combination of two materials bends and refracts light to create optical effects that can look like color. It’s the same basic phenomenon that gives butterfly wings their shimmer.

The preform is heated and then mechanically pulled—a bit like taffy—into a hair-thin strand of fiber. While the manufacturing process method differs from the extrusion technique used to make conventional synthetic fibers like polyester, it can produce the same miles-long strands of fiber. Those strands can then be processed with the same equipment already used by textile makers.

By adjusting the mix of materials and the speed at which the preform is pulled, the researchers tuned the fiber to create the desired optical properties and ensure recyclability. While the photonic fiber is more expensive than traditional textiles, the researchers estimate that it will only result in a small increase in the cost of finished goods.

“The photonic fibers only need to make up a small percentage—as little as 1% of a finished garment,” Iezzi said. “That might increase the cost of the finished product by around 25 cents—similar to the cost of those use-and-care tags we’re all familiar with.”

Shtein says that in addition to making recycling easier, the photonic labeling could be used to tell consumers where and how goods are made, and even to verify the authenticity of brand-name products. It could be a way to add important value for customers.

“As electronic devices like cell phones become more sophisticated, they could potentially have the ability to read this kind of photonic labeling,” Shtein said. “So I could imagine a future where woven-in labels are a useful feature for consumers as well as recyclers.”

The team has applied for patent protection and is evaluating ways to move forward with the commercialization of the technology.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.

Source:

Gabe Cherry, College of Engineering, University of Michigan / Textination

(c) Continuum
24.01.2023

... and they actually can be recycled: Wind Turbine Blades

The Danish company Continuum Group ApS with its subsidiary companies in Denmark (Continuum Aps) and the UK (Continuum Composite Transformation (UK) Limited) wants to give end-of-life wind blades and composites a new purpose, preventing them going to waste. The goal is to reduce the amounts of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere by the current waste streams, delivering a value to Europe’s Net Zero efforts.

Continuum states that it ensures all wind turbine blades are 100% recyclable and plans to build industrial scale recycling factories across Europe.

Net zero is the phrase on everyone’s lips, and as 2030 rapidly approaches we constantly hear updates about wind energy generating renewable energy that powers millions of European homes – but what happens when those turbine blades reach the end of their lifespan?

The Danish company Continuum Group ApS with its subsidiary companies in Denmark (Continuum Aps) and the UK (Continuum Composite Transformation (UK) Limited) wants to give end-of-life wind blades and composites a new purpose, preventing them going to waste. The goal is to reduce the amounts of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere by the current waste streams, delivering a value to Europe’s Net Zero efforts.

Continuum states that it ensures all wind turbine blades are 100% recyclable and plans to build industrial scale recycling factories across Europe.

Net zero is the phrase on everyone’s lips, and as 2030 rapidly approaches we constantly hear updates about wind energy generating renewable energy that powers millions of European homes – but what happens when those turbine blades reach the end of their lifespan?

Currently the general answer is to put them into landfill or co-process them into cement, but neither is planet friendly. Many countries in Europe look to ban landfill from 2025, so this option is likely to be eliminated in the near future.

Continuum provides an alternative: When the end of their first life arrives, Continuum recycles them into new, high performing composite panels for the construction, and related industries. The vision of the Danes: Abandon the current landfilling, and drastically reduce CO2 emitted during currently applied incineration & co-processing in cement factories by 100 million tons by 2050, via their mechanical composite recycling technology and their industrial scale factories.  

The technology is proven, patented, and ready to go, says Reinhard Kessing, co-founder and CTO of Continuum Group ApS, who has spent more than 20 years of research and development in this field, and advanced the reclamation of raw materials from wind blades and other composite products and transformation of these materials into new, high performing panel products.

By working with partners, Continuum’s cost-effective solution covers end-to-end logistics and processes. This spans from the collection of the end-of-life blades through to the reclamation of the pure clean raw materials and then the remanufacturing of all those materials into high value, highly performing, infinitely recyclable composite panels for the construction industry or the manufacture of many day-to-day products such as facades, industrial doors, and kitchen countertops. The panels are 92% recycled blade material and are said to outperform competing products.

Nicolas Derrien: Chief Executive Officer of Continuum Group ApS said: “We need solutions for the disposal of wind turbine blades in an environmentally friendly manner, we need it now, and we need it fast, and this is where Continuum comes in! As a society we are rightly focussed on renewable energy production, however the subject of what to do with wind turbine blades in the aftermath of that production has not been effectively addressed. We’re changing that, offering a recycling solution for the blades and a construction product that will outperform most other existing construction materials and be infinitely recyclable, and with the lowest carbon footprint in its class.”

Martin Dronfield, Chief Commercial Officer of Continuum Group ApS and Managing Director of Continuum Composite Transformation (UK) Ltd, adds: “We need wind energy operators & developers across Europe to take a step back and work with us to solve the bigger picture challenge. Continuum is offering them a service which won’t just give their business complete and sustainable circularity to their operations but help protect the planet in the process.“

Each Continuum factory in Europe will have the capacity to recycle a minimum of 36,000 tons of end-of-life turbine blades per year and feed the high value infinitely recyclable product back into the circular economy by 2024/25.

Due to an investment by Climentum Capital and a grant from the UK’s ‘Offshore Wind Growth Partnership’, Continuum are planning for the first of six factories in Esbjerg to be operational by the end of 2024 and for a second factory in the United Kingdom to follow on just behind it. After that they are looking to build another four in France, Germany, Spain, and Turkey by 2030.

As part of their own pledge to promote green behaviour, Continuum have designed their factories to be powered by only 100% green energy and to be zero carbon emitting environments; meaning no emissions to air, no waste fluids to ground, and no carbon fuel combustion.

Source:

Continuum / Textination

Photo: Bcomp
22.11.2022

Made in Switzerland: Is Flax the New Carbon?

  • Bcomp wins BMW Group Supplier Innovation Award in the category “Newcomer of the Year”

The sixth BMW Group Supplier Innovation Awards were presented at the BMW Welt in Munich on 17 November 2022. The coveted award was presented in a total of six categories: powertrain & e-mobility, sustainability, digitalisation, customer experience, newcomer of the year and exceptional team performance.

Bcomp won the BMW Group Supplier Innovation Award in the Newcomer of the Year category. Following a successful collaboration with BMW M Motorsport for the new BMW M4 GT4 that extensively uses Bcomp’s powerRibs™ and ampliTex™ natural fibre solutions and BMW iVentures recently taking a stake in Bcomp as lead investor in the Series B round, this award is another major step and recognition on the path to decarbonizing mobility.

  • Bcomp wins BMW Group Supplier Innovation Award in the category “Newcomer of the Year”

The sixth BMW Group Supplier Innovation Awards were presented at the BMW Welt in Munich on 17 November 2022. The coveted award was presented in a total of six categories: powertrain & e-mobility, sustainability, digitalisation, customer experience, newcomer of the year and exceptional team performance.

Bcomp won the BMW Group Supplier Innovation Award in the Newcomer of the Year category. Following a successful collaboration with BMW M Motorsport for the new BMW M4 GT4 that extensively uses Bcomp’s powerRibs™ and ampliTex™ natural fibre solutions and BMW iVentures recently taking a stake in Bcomp as lead investor in the Series B round, this award is another major step and recognition on the path to decarbonizing mobility.

“Innovations are key to the success of our transformation towards electromobility, digitalisation and sustainability. Our award ceremony recognises innovation and cooperative partnership with our suppliers – especially in challenging times,” said Joachim Post, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network at the ceremony held at BMW Welt in Munich.

BMW first started to work with Bcomp’s materials in 2019 when they used high-performance natural fibre composites in the BMW iFE.20 Formula E car. From this flax fibre reinforced cooling shaft, the collaboration evolved and soon after, the proprietary ampliTex™ and powerRibs™ natural fibre solutions were found successfully substituting selected carbon fibre components in DTM touring cars from BMW M Motorsport. By trickling down and expanding into other vehicle programs, such developments highlight the vital role that BMW M Motorsports plays as a technology lab for the entire BMW Group. This continues in the form of the latest collaboration with Bcomp to include a higher proportion of renewable raw materials in the successor of the BMW M4 GT4.

With the launch of the new BMW M4 GT4, it will be the serial GT car with the highest proportion of natural fibre components. Bcomp’s ampliTex™ and powerRibs™ flax fibre solutions can be found throughout the interior on the dashboard and centre console, as well as on bodywork components such as the hood, front splitter, doors, trunk, and rear wing. Aside from the roof, there are almost no carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) components that were not replaced by the renewable high-performance flax materials. “Product sustainability is increasing in importance in the world of motorsport too,” says Franciscus van Meel, Chairman of the Board of Management at BMW M GmbH.

Bcomp is a leading solutions provider for natural fibre reinforcements in high performance applications from race to space.

The company started as a garage project in 2011 with a mission to create lightweight yet high performance skis. The bCores™ were launched and successfully adopted by some of the biggest names in freeride skiing. The founders, material science PhDs from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), used flax fibres to reinforce the balsa cores and improve shear stiffness. Impressed by the excellent mechanical properties of flax fibres, the development to create sustainable lightweighting solutions for the wider mobility markets started.

Flax is an indigenous plant that grows naturally in Europe and has been part of the agricultural history for centuries. It requires very little water and nutrients to grow successfully. In addition, it acts as a rotational crop, thus enhancing harvests on existing farmland. Neither cultivation nor processing of the flax plants requires any chemicals that could contaminate ground water and harvesting is a completely mechanical process. After harvesting the entire flax plant can be used for feed, to make oil and its fibres are especially used for home textiles and clothing. The long fibre that comes from the flax plant possesses very good mechanical properties and outstanding damping properties in relation to its density, making it especially suited as a natural fibre reinforcement for all kinds of polymers.

The harvesting and processing of flax takes place locally in the rural areas it was grown in. Using European flax sourced through a well-established and transparent supply chain it allows to support the economic and social structure in rural areas thanks to the large and skilled workforce required to sustain the flax production. When it comes to the production of technical products like the powerRibs™ reinforcement grid, Bcomp is investing in local production capacities close to its headquarters in the city of Fribourg, Switzerland, thus creating new jobs and maintaining technical know-how in the area. The production is built to be as efficient as possible and with minimal environmental impact and waste.

Further strengthening the local economy, Bcomp aims to hire local companies for missions and with the headquarters being located in Fribourg’s “Blue Factory” district, Bcomp can both benefit from and contribute to the development of this sustainable and diverse quarter.

Source:

Bcomp; BMW Group

Photo Pixabay
16.11.2022

Green chemistry transforms facemasks into Ethernet cables

Swansea University academics have pioneered a process which converts the carbon found in discarded facemasks to create high-quality single-walled carbon nanotubes (CNT) which were then used to make Ethernet cable with broadband quality.
 
The study, which has been published in Carbon Letters, outlines how this new green chemistry could be used to upcycle materials which would otherwise be thrown away and transform them into high value materials with real-world applications. The CNTs produced by this technique have the potential not only to be used in Ethernet cables, but also in the production of lightweight batteries used in electric cars and drones.

Swansea University academics have pioneered a process which converts the carbon found in discarded facemasks to create high-quality single-walled carbon nanotubes (CNT) which were then used to make Ethernet cable with broadband quality.
 
The study, which has been published in Carbon Letters, outlines how this new green chemistry could be used to upcycle materials which would otherwise be thrown away and transform them into high value materials with real-world applications. The CNTs produced by this technique have the potential not only to be used in Ethernet cables, but also in the production of lightweight batteries used in electric cars and drones.

Professor Alvin Orbaek White, of Swansea University’s Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI):
“Single-use facemasks are a real travesty for the recycling system as they create vast amounts of plastic waste - much of it ending up in our oceans. During the study, we established that the carbon inside the facemask can be used as a pretty good feedstock to make high-quality materials like CNTs.

“CNTs are highly sought-after because they have preferential physical properties and tend to be much more costly on an industrial scale. So, through this study, we demonstrated that we could make very high value materials by processing the CNTs from what are, essentially, worthless waste facemasks.”

The team also studied the energy costs involved in using this process and concluded that the technique was green not only in levels of resource consumption but also in the product value generation as opposed to waste creation. Also, the Ethernet cable produced using the CNTs was good quality and adhered to Category 5 transmission speeds while easily exceeding the benchmarks set for broadband internet in most countries, including the UK.

Professor Orbaek White said:
“Using CNT films in batteries instead of metal films has a lower impact on the environment as the use of carbon offsets the need for mining and extraction activities. This is a crucial piece of work as it contributes to not only a circular economy but is also scalable and is viable for industrial processing and has green chemistry at its core.”

Source:

Swansea University

(c) Oeti
31.05.2022

OEKO-TEX® Association celebrates 30th birthday

The international OEKO-TEX® Association, which consists of a total of 17 independent research and testing institutes in Europe and Japan, turns thirty this year. As one of the founding members, OETI is taking this as an opportunity to talk to OEKO-TEX® expert Helene Melnitzky (Head of the Ecology Department at OETI) about the role of the OEKO-TEX® Association, market trends and current OEKO-TEX® certifications and labels.

The international OEKO-TEX® Association, which consists of a total of 17 independent research and testing institutes in Europe and Japan, turns thirty this year. As one of the founding members, OETI is taking this as an opportunity to talk to OEKO-TEX® expert Helene Melnitzky (Head of the Ecology Department at OETI) about the role of the OEKO-TEX® Association, market trends and current OEKO-TEX® certifications and labels.

The international OEKO-TEX® Association is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. What role has it played so far with regard to the product safety of textile and leather products?
Helene Melnitzky:
In the area product safety1, OEKO-TEX® has had a great impact over the last three decades by ensuring certain pollutant additives, some of which were found in large quantities in textiles 30 years ago, no longer exist. The OEKO-TEX® Association was also the first to limit certain heavy metals. Based on our actions, legal provisions were ultimately passed. We have been testing banned dyes since before there even was an EU regulation in this regard. Of course, we now test according to the EU regulation, but in this respect OEKO-TEX® was a clear trailblazer.

In addition to product safety, OEKO-TEX® has been working on the topics of ‘environmentally friendly textile products manufactured under fair working conditions for 30 years, which also included leather products for the last five years, and with STeP by OEKO-TEX® on the ‘certification of environmentally friendly production sites’ since 2013. In one way or another, we have been preparing the market for thirty years. In the process, we are always creating new things: currently the Impact Calculator and, in autumn-2022, a new certification for brands and retailers: RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS by OEKO-TEX®.

How does that benefit the customers of OEKO-TEX®?
Helene Melnitzky:
Customers can use these calculations for external communication to demonstrate on their products or webpages that their products have a lower footprint than their competitors. This means that customers sourcing everything regionally will have a smaller footprint than companies that source products from different countries. In the future, it will be necessary to display the water and carbon footprint on the product, so that consumers can decide whether they want to buy product A or B.

How is the aspect of fair working conditions taken into account?
Helene Melnitzky:
This topic has also been gaining significant momentum over the last ten years. There is now enough pressure on brands and retailers to improve local working conditions. We cover this area as part of our STeP by OEKO-TEX® certification2 with our ‘social responsibility’ module. The advantage for our customers is that they can subsequently use the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label to show how they have performed in the social module.

What does Transparency with MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® mean?
Helene Melnitzky:
Everything that is written on the product is transparent. The MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label is a traceable product label for all types of textiles and leather items that have been produced in environmentally friendly factories and at safe and socially responsible workplaces. Furthermore, the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label gives consumers the certainty that the textile or leather product is made from materials tested for harmful substances. In order to ensure that textile or leather products with the MADE IN GREEN by OEKO-TEX® label have been produced using environmentally friendly processes under socially acceptable working conditions, manufacturing and wet production sites must be certified according to STeP by OEKO-TEX®.

For a year now, it has been possible to have recycled materials STANDARD 100 certified and display that certification as a hangtag to communicate that the product consists of a certain proportion3 of recycled materials. Which market demand is this certification addressing?
Helene Melnitzky:
There is an increasing demand that at least part of the product must be made from recycled material. This is partly attributable to market pressure because raw materials are scarce and expensive. However, we are also voluntarily informing consumers about recycling as part of the circular economy.

What is your outlook for the next few years?
Helene Melnitzky:
Producing textile and leather products in a more environmentally friendly and fair manner, while making the value chain more transparent, is a global challenge that sets new environmental standards. In the long term, however, it also involves important economic and social aspects. The goal is to raise awareness of these interdependencies and a common understanding of environmental issues – among producers and, of course, end consumers. It is clear that the demand for certified and traceable products is growing among consumers. This trend is reflected in purchasing behaviour and thus in manufacturing. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to do.


1 STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® und LEATHER STANDARD by OEKO-TEX®
2 The STeP by OEKO-TEX® certification includes the modules Chemical Management, Environmental Performance, Environmental Management, Quality Management, Occupational Health and Safety, and Social Responsibility
3 To qualify, the product must contain at least 20 per cent recycled material.

(c) MAI Carbon
24.05.2022

From waste to secondary raw material - wetlaid nonwovens made from recycled carbon fibers

MAI Scrap SeRO | From Scrap to Secondary Ressources – Highly Orientated Wet-Laid-Nonwovens from CFRP-Waste

The »Scrap SeRO« project is an international joint project in the field of »recycling of carbon fibers«.

The technical project goal is the demonstration of a continuous process route for processing pyrolytically recycled carbon fibers (rCF) in high-performance second-life component structures. In addition to the technological level, the focus of the project is particularly on the international transfer character, in the sense of a cross-cluster initiative between the top cluster MAI Carbon (Germany) and CVC (South Korea).

MAI Scrap SeRO | From Scrap to Secondary Ressources – Highly Orientated Wet-Laid-Nonwovens from CFRP-Waste

The »Scrap SeRO« project is an international joint project in the field of »recycling of carbon fibers«.

The technical project goal is the demonstration of a continuous process route for processing pyrolytically recycled carbon fibers (rCF) in high-performance second-life component structures. In addition to the technological level, the focus of the project is particularly on the international transfer character, in the sense of a cross-cluster initiative between the top cluster MAI Carbon (Germany) and CVC (South Korea).

Through direct cooperation between market-leading companies and research institutions of the participating cluster members, the technical project processing takes place in the context of the global challenge of recycling, as well as the need for increased resource efficiency, with reference to the economically strategic material carbon fibers.

Efficient processing of recycled carbon fibers
The technological process route within the project runs along the industrial wet-laying technology, which is comparable to classic paper production. This enables a robust production of high-quality rCF nonwovens, which are characterized, among other things, by particularly high homogeneity and stability of characteristic values.

A special development focus is on a specific process control, which allows the generation of an orientation of the individual fiber filaments in the nonwoven material.

The given preferred fiber direction of the discontinuous fiber structure opens up strong synergy effects in relation to increased packing densities, i.e. fiber volume content, as well as a significantly optimized processing behavior in relation to impregnation, forming and consolidation, in addition to a load path-oriented mechanics.

The innovative wetlaid nonwovens are then further processed into thermoset and thermoplastic semi-finished products, i.e. prepregs or organosheets, using impregnation processes that are suitable for large-scale production.

rCF tapes are produced from this in an intermediate slitting step. By means of automated fiber placement, load path-optimized preforms can be deposited, which are then consolidated into complex demonstrator components.

The process chain is monitored at key interfaces by innovative non-destructive measurement technology and supplemented by extensive characterization methods. Especially for the processing of pyrolysed recycled carbon fibers, which were recovered from end-of-life waste or PrePreg waste, for example, there are completely new potentials with significant added value compared to the current state of the art for the overall process route presented here.

International Transfer
The fundamentally global challenge of recycling and the striving for increased sustainability is strongly influenced by national recycling strategies as a result of country-specific framework conditions. The globalized way in which companies deal with high-volume material flows places additional demands on a functioning circular economy. A networked solution can only be created on the basis of and in compliance with the respective guidelines and structural factors.

In the case of the high-performance material carbon fiber, there is a particularly high technical requirement for an ecologically and economically viable recycling industry. At the same time, the specific market size already opens up interesting scaling effects and potential for market penetration.

The Scrap SeRO project connects two of the world's leading top clusters in the field of carbon composites from South Korea and Germany on the basis of a cross-cluster initiative. As part of this first promising technology project, the foundation stone for future cooperation is to be laid that supports the effective recycling of carbon fibers. The project makes an important contribution to closing the material cycle for carbon fibers and thus paves the way for renewed use in further life cycles of this high-quality and energy-intensive material.

Info »Scrap SeRO«

  • Duration: 05/2019 – 04/2022
  • Funding: BMBF
  • Funding Amount: 2.557.000 €

National Consortium

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV
  • ELG Carbon Fibre
  • J.M. Voith SE & Co. KG
  • Neenah Gessner
  • SURAGUS GmbH
  • LAMILUX Composites GmbH
  • Covestro Deutschland AG
  • BA Composites GmbH
  • SGL Carbon

International Consortium

  • KCarbon
  • Hyundai
  • Sangmyung University
  • TERA Engineering
Source:

Fraunhofer Institute for Casting, Composite and Processing Technology IGCV