After a £26 million ($30.2 million) investment and seven years of research, the Lenzing Group has created a new technology platform, known as Lenzing Web Technology, that will allow it to produce nonwoven fibers and products more sustainably manner.
Much like the Tencel fibers Lenzing has become known for, the patented process begins with wood pulp. Lenzing uses the pulp to create a material web very similar to those used in the production of traditional nonwoven fabric but “made with 100 percent continuous Lyocell filament.” This web can then be applied to fibers through a traditional nonwoven bonding process.
Many of the products Lenzing hopes to replace with the new material are currently manufactured using materials that have a high plastic content and very low biodegradability. Couple that with the propensity for nonwoven fabrics to be used with single-use products and a sustainability problem quickly emerges. Lenzing calls nonwoven products a “leading contributor to landfill issues globally.”
“While the nonwoven segment currently represents 30 percent of our core business, we are committed to driving stronger growth through more active involvement in innovations across the value chain,” Stefan Doboczky, CEO and chairman of the management board of the Lenzing Group, said in a statement. “We will continue to lead the innovation of sustainable specialty products and empower industry partners and customers with more sustainable offerings to drive business success.”
Lenzing’s process involves the use of a “unique self-bonding mechanism where filaments bond into a fabric during the laydown process.” It said this method of bonding can help give a nonwoven fabric a variety of textures and “drapeability” that other nonwoven technologies can’t provide.
Describing the web technology development as “groundbreaking” for the nonwovens category, Lenzing sees this new advancement as an opening in the market. At face value, Lenzing believes it can integrate nonwoven fabrics created with its Lenzing Web Technology with future products. But as sustainability becomes more and more powerful in textile manufacturing, the value and utility of a biodegradable nonwoven fabric can only grow.
This initial one-meter-wide pilot line using web technology is designed for R&D purposes, though “maybe we will seed some markets from this line in the future,” Lenzing said. The fiber maker projects that the first commercial line will be installed in 2022/2023, with the location, production capacity, and other factors dependent on market acceptance and final product mix.
“Given the nonwoven fabric market size is expected to reach close to $35 billion in 2022, with a staggering compound annual growth rate of 7.5 percent per year over that period, it is crucial to support eco-responsible development of the nonwoven industry by using sustainable raw materials,” Wolfgang Plasser, vice president of global business management nonwovens at Lenzing, said.