Fashion for Good has rolled out the Renewable Carbon Textiles Project, bringing together a consortium to accelerate the development of polyhydroxyalkanoates, or PHA, polymer fibers, a promising biosynthetic alternative to fossil-based fibers with the potential to reduce carbon emissions in the fashion supply chain.
The project brings together key industry players to investigate, test and validate the solutions provided by innovators in the PHA polymer space. With catalytic funding provided by the Laudes Foundation, collaborating partners include Bestseller, Norrøna, PVH Corp. and the Fabrics Division of W. L. Gore & Associates will provide industry expertise and financial support. Participating innovators Bio Craft Innovation, Full Cycle Bioplastics and Newlight Technologies contribute their solutions, providing insights to scale the industry in the long term.
“There is an urgent need to find replacements for the predominantly fossil-based fibers in the fashion industry through solutions such as biosynthetics from renewable sources,” Katrin Ley, managing director of Fashion for Good, said. “PHA polymers represent an exciting, yet challenging solution for reducing carbon emissions in the fashion industry and this project aims to drive further innovation in this space to bring them to scale.”
The organization said the fashion industry accounts for around 4 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with 38 percent of these emissions coming from raw material production, preparation and processing and 3 percent from end-of-use. Polyester fiber is one of the most widely used in the fashion industry making up 52 percent of global fiber production.
Fashion for Good said the production of these virgin fossil-based polyester fibers are responsible for increased GHG emissions and their use results in the release of microplastics into the natural environment.
Under the umbrella of the Renewable Carbon Framework initiated by the Nova Institute, biosynthetics made from renewable sources, such as agricultural byproducts, provide a solution to reduce plastic production and, ultimately, a brand’s overarching carbon footprint, the group said. In particular, PHA polymers provide a bio-based, marine and soil compostable solution to fossil-fuel derived polyester fibers and could be a key step in decarbonizing the fashion industry.
The Renewable Carbon Textiles Project is orchestrated by Fashion for Good with partner brands participating in testing and developing output materials, as well as providing their technical expertise and industry insights. This will enable the evaluation of the suitability of PHA polymers, accelerate fiber development and production, and determine scalability in the traditional supply chain. The end-of-use pathways for the fibers will be evaluated through third-party degradation and recyclability testing, to ensure circularity.
Until now, commercial melt-spinning trials have not used PHA polymers. As such, there are still some manufacturing challenges and additional technical assessments needed to compare and evaluate the different polymers, the group said. This project focuses on validating the technical feasibility of the output, working with the Nonwovens Innovation & Research Institute (NIRI) to run the melt-spinning trials. This allows for a comparative evaluation which can provide key learnings on how to best support and bring these technologies to scale.
“One of the key pillars of our vision to create fashion that Wastes Nothing and Welcomes All is reducing our negative impacts to zero, with targets on eliminating carbon emissions and innovating for circularity,” Kashif Noor, director of innovation at Tommy Hilfiger, said. “With initiatives like this, we are helping to drive tangible, meaningful change. It’s fantastic to be working with these companies and fellow Fashion for Good partners to drive fashion forward, for good.”
Alongside the technical feasibility study, the project includes a range of degradation testing that will be conducted by Organic Waste Systems (OWS). Specializing in biodegradability, compostability and ecotoxicity testing, OWS will run tests in marine, soil, freshwater and landfill environments in mid-2022 to assess the biochemical properties of the fibers and whether they break down in these environments.
Full Cycle Bioplastics uses inedible food waste, while Newlight’s use of carbon capture technology transforms carbon from greenhouse gases into PHA biopolymers. Bio Craft Innovation produces a blended PHA composite using biomass from bamboo production.
Fashion for Good said material for fiber production will be provided by each of these innovators and they will demonstrate that their product can meet industry requirements in quality and quantity needed for scalable production.