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Inside H&M’s Sustainable Cellulosic Fiber Investment

Swedish fiber innovation group Tree toTextile, which was founded by the some of the Nordic region’s leading companies, is investing big to bring its sustainable cellulosics to a wider audience.

Founded by fast-fashion firm H&M Group, global home goods giant Inter Ikea Group, paper producer Stora Enso, and LSCS Invest, TreetoTextile announced Tuesday that it will pump 35 million euros ($42.5 million) into building out a pilot plant in Sweden in an effort to commercialize its alternative cellulosic fiber for use across multiple industries.

The plant opening marks a “critical next step” in bringing the fiber to market with scalable technology and low manufacturing cost, TreetoTextile said. Made from a bio-based regenerated cellulose sourced from trees, the versatile fiber is developed using 33 percent less energy, 70 percent less chemicals and 80 percent less water than conventional fibers. What’s more, the process was engineered to suit large-scale production, and contains a recovery system so that processing chemicals can be reused.

Investors will foot more than 27 million euros-worth ($32.7 million) of the bill for the new plant, TreetoTextile said, supplemented by a 7.6 million-euro grant (more than $9 million) from the Swedish Energy Agency. The plant with be built at Stora Enso’s Nymölla mill in southern Sweden this spring, with the expectation that it will eventually produce 1,500 tons of fiber per year.

Swedish textile innovation company Tree to Textile announced plans to open a new demo plant to scale its production of sustainable fiber.
TreetoTextile fiber Courtesy

The demo plant will be strategic for optimizing the process for the use of different types of dissolving wood pulp, TreetoTextile CEO Sigrid Barnekow told Sourcing Journal. The first round of production will use pulp from Stora Enso’s Enocell mill in Finland, which pulls wood from sustainably managed forests through a Forest Stewardship Council-certified process.

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While the plant will be housed at paper producer Stora Enso’s mill, Barnekow said that it will be run independently. “For us it is very convenient to connect directly to a mill and their existing production infrastructure, but our operations are separate from theirs as their operations will continue without any change,” she said, adding that the mill is “highly excited” to play host to a new technology that aims to support the global textile industry.

Barnekow said the demonstration plant will allow her team to “verify the technology in a full-scale similar setting, and further fine-tune the process,” with an eye toward increasing sustainability and testing out alternative cellulose sources. “The objective is to provide a new man-made cellulosic textile fiber with as strong sustainability performance as possible, at the same time to an attractive cost level,” she added.

TreetoTextile's planned site at the Stora Enso mill in Sweden.
TreetoTextile’s planned site at the Stora Enso mill in Sweden. Courtesy

TreetoTextile’s current process relies on the dissolution of pulp in a cold alkaline solution that “does not come with any air emissions, residue streams or involve carbon disulfide,” Barnekow said. Meanwhile, water and chemicals are recovered and reused to repeat the process.

When asked when the fiber is expected to hit the mainstream market, the CEO said that he hopes to see its introduction within the next few years. “First we need to ensure our process works in full scale conditions and successfully run our demo plant operations,” he added.