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Spinnova, Energy Provider to Turn Agricultural Waste into Textiles

Two prominent Finnish firms have entered into a “disruptive strategic” partnership to transform agricultural waste—typically burned or left to rot in the field–into textile-quality fibers.

The collaboration between eco-friendly fiber producer Spinnova and state-owned clean-energy provider Fortum is a “great match,” according to a press release, because it’s born from two complementary trends: the energy industry’s gradual divestment from fossil fuels and the textile industry’s need for sustainable materials.

The timing of the announcement couldn’t be better. In December, Spinnova completed a pilot factory to ramp up production of its cellulose-based fiber using a mechanical process that doesn’t require dissolving with harsh chemicals. Its patented technique, which involves grinding wood pulp into tiny filaments, creates zero waste and employs roughly 99 percent less water than traditional cotton production.

Indeed, the company is framing its fiber as an alternative to cotton, which can use copious amounts of farmland, pesticides and water in places prone to drought, deforestation or biodiversity loss.

Spinnova claims that replacing a cotton field with, say, wheat, and then funneling 30 percent of the post-harvest straw into fiber production (rather than razing it), can deliver the same volume of textiles with far less water and fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. Eventually, the biomass could even be used to generate energy.

“This would be resource efficiency at its best, also creating a value added product that is attractive to the consumer, while mitigating climate change,” Janne Poranen, CEO of Spinnova, said in a statement. “We’re very excited about this collaboration and its environmental impact potential for the future.”

The company has made initial trials with Fortum’s biomasses with “very promising results,” said Heli Antila, vice president of bio-based solutions at Fortum.

“Spinnova’s disruptive technology is unique in the world,” Antila said. “We are delighted to be able to pilot it together using innovative raw materials, especially agro residues.”

This phase of the partnership is funded through a program run by Business Finland, a public agency that invests in Finnish companies to advance the bio-circular economy.