Textile Exchange is laying the groundwork for a future where garments could be made from biosynthetics—including algae, bacteria, fungi, sugar and plants—as alternatives to conventional materials.
On Tuesday, the global non-profit and an industrywide working group, debuted a new website—aboutbiosynthetics.org—which aims to inform interested companies and consumers about biosynthetics, their use, new technologies advancing their capabilities and their potential benefits.
As the latest website in Textile Exchange’s “About” series, the biosynthetics site, which is similar to aboutorganiccotton.org, could be a vehicle for better sustainability in fashion, as the industry continues to shift to a more circular economy.
“Right now, biosynthetics are a new and emerging area for the textile industry and an exciting one for us to be exploring at Textile Exchange. We are all looking for opportunities to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions,” said Textile Exchange director of materials strategy Liesl Truscott. “Our new microsite is a tool for communicating the big potential biosynthetics offer and their link to the Bio Economy, while also presenting the challenges and realities in terms of the sector’s stage of development and current scale.”
According to Textile Exchange’s website, a biosynthetic fiber contains polymers partly or wholly made from renewable sources. Some biopolymers available are 100 percent bio-based and hail from renewable lipids, starches and sugars found in first generation feedstocks, like plant oils. Products containing first generation biosynthetics include some performance apparel, denim, footwear and hosiery. Technologies are currently in place to derive biosynthetics from second generation feedstocks, including agriculture, algae, forestry and fungi and bacteria, a third generation feedstock. Even though some of these advanced biosynthetics have undergone testing, Textile Exchange said they are not commercially available on the market.
Biosynthetics play an important role in reducing fashion’s carbon footprint. Textile Exchange said global demand for textiles is predicted to more than double by 2050—leaving opportunities to diversity the industry’s current raw material portfolio with biosynthetics. For companies and consumers that want to make more sustainable choices, biosynthetics could boost renewable resource use and minimize climate change compared to other conventional, petroleum-based materials. While global warming concerns remain rampant, a European Commission assessment said bio-based products, including biosynthetics, represent 57 billion euros ($69.8 billion) in annual revenue and could bring 300,000 jobs worldwide. What’s more, bio-based share of all chemicals sales will increase to 22 percent by 2020.
[Read more about circularity: A New Circularity Roadmap Charts a More Sustainable Path Forward for Apparel]
Textile Exchange also shared the potential benefits of biosynthetics on the website. Unlike conventional materials, biosynthetics increase renewable resource use, could reduce climate change through the use of carbon dioxide during the growing phase and some are chemically identical to their petroleum-based counterparts. By exploring the possibilities of biosynthetics, Textile Exchange can collect data about the life cycle of biosynthetics and potentially expand the current preferred fiber portfolio for the industry. Even though a developing portfolio of biosynthetics’ Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data exists, Textile Exchange aims to improve LCA boundaries and research to elevate the potential of biosynthetics in apparel.
The new website comes on the heels of other Textile Exchange milestones, including the development of a Biosynthetics Working Group formed in 2016. The Working Group, which includes brands such as Adidas and H&M, and technology firms such as REvolve Waste and Virent. The group, which tailors to members that are interested in advancing bio-based materials, is working to incorporate more sustainable alternatives for material sourcing and textile production.
Over the past two years, the group has assessed the challenges and opportunities associated with biosynthetics and is currently working toward moving biosynthetics from research and development to becoming more commercially available.
“We think the Textile Exchange microsite is a great way to provide much needed information on the benefits of biosynthetic materials to the textile industry,” said Stacey Orlandi, chief executive officer of Virent. “At Virent we are in the final stages of commercializing a technology to use plant-based feedstocks to produce paraxylene, a key raw material for bio-polyester fiber. We were pleased that Textile Exchange took on the challenge of developing the microsite and are happy to support its continued development.”