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Going Circular: Carbios Creates Process to Turn Polyester Textile Waste Back Into Fiber

Chalk one up for the circular economy.

Creating the next generation of recycled polyester fiber, French green chemistry company Carbios said it can now turn polyester fabric back into polyester fiber.

This “new step forward” involved the company’s development of its enzymatic depolymerization process that re-engineers polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polyester fibers coming from textile waste.

Carbios said it has already applied its enzymatic process to PET plastics and it has been able to depolymerize 100 percent PET textile waste fibers back into their original monomers (the terephthalic acid, or TPA, and mono ethylene glycol, or MEG).

Companies like Unifi have taken a lead in turning plastic bottles into polyester fiber—branded Repreve—and use in the apparel and textile sectors has been widespread in recent years.

Carbios’ move to depolymerizing 100 percent PET textile waste fibers into their original monomer fibers, opens a new major market and a fresh circular approach to polyester manufacturing. The company noted that polyester holds the largest market share of any fiber at about 50 percent, with the dominant type of polyester being PET. Each year, 43 million tons of PET are produced for the fiber market, compared to 15 million tons dedicated to the production of plastic bottles.

The key objective of this new process developed with Carbios’ academic partners is to provide the recycling industry a competitive solution to upcycle post-consumer PET polyester fabrics, and give the textile industry the ability to use recycled PET fibers that can fully replace those made from fossil resources.

“Turning unwanted polyester textiles into high quality raw materials for new products using Carbios enzymatic technology is an opportunity for completely changing textile manufacturing and trade in Europe and beyond,” Alain Marty, chief scientific officer of Carbios, said. “From a sustainable perspective, our approach will significantly improve the overall life cycle impact of textile products.”

Carbios won the EuropaBio’s 2017 Most Innovative European Biotech SME Award in the Industrial Biotech category for the process and its potential to significantly alter the lifecycle of plastics and how its innovative approach can significantly contribute to the development of Circular Economy.

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Since its creation in 2011, Carbios has developed two industrial bioprocesses dedicated to the biodegradation and the biorecycling of polymers.

In the first half of 2017, Carbios saw revenues of 632,000 euros ($777, 520) and a net loss of 1.35 million euros ($1.88 million).