Attention, apparel makers: Re:newcell wants your waste.
Pre-consumer, 100-percent cotton waste, that is. The Swedish company, founded in 2012 by a group of researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and a small investment company, is ready to scale its process, which can recycle cotton and other cellulosic textiles into a dissolving pulp that can then be upcycled into new fibers, such as viscose and lyocell.
“During the last 18 months we’ve been producing really consistent results with the pulp which has surprisingly high quality,” said Henrik Norlin, Re:newcell’s business development manager, speaking last week at Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive event in New York City. “We’ve been doing this on a laboratory scale, up to 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) at a time. What we want to do now is scale this because there’s not much more we can do on the lab scale.”
Specifically, Re:newcell wants to increase its capacity to about 3,000 tons per year. Last month, the company concluded the basic engineering phase of a demo plant and is now taking offers from various firms for detailed engineering, which will begin in December. Construction is slated to start in February and Norlin anticipates the facility will be up and running within a year of that time.
“We need to verify the process on a larger scale,” he stressed, noting that there are fiber spinners ready to use it. “It’s a new business model that needs to be implemented into the textile industry, so we need to start cooperating with customers to make sure our product—even on the larger scale—suits requirements. We need to make sure we have a functional business model where we understand what we need and what we can deliver.”
And because there are always hurdles involved in upscaling, Re:newcell wants to make it as easy as possible. For that reason, the company is looking for 100 percent cotton pre-consumer waste clippings. Norlin noted, “So we know if there’s a hiccup in the process it’s not the raw material we have a problem with, it’s the real process.”
Once that bridge has been crossed, the company can then move on to upcycling fabrics featuring 95 percent cellulosic content and recreating its recent successes. Earlier this year, two Swedish School of Textiles students created a white T-shirt using only Re:newcell fibers recycled from blue jeans. Tests found the garment to be comparable with other high-quality fibers when it came to dyestuff absorption, tenacity (in both wet and dry conditions) and withstanding high abrasion.
“We’re not going to be producing 3,000 tons of pulp in the first year because it takes time to get it working but we’re calculating at least 1,000 tons in the first year,” Norlin said. “Our only goal is that we’re producing something that is as similar to virgin materials as possible.”