"The key issue to resolve is ensuring that uniform-quality recycled fiber can be purchased cost-effectively. It is a question of whether manufacturing from recycled fibers will be profitable and feasible in general," says Sami Helle, CEO of Soften.
Soften’s textile panels are manufactured using the same method as for panels made from current materials. The acoustics lab tested the acoustic properties of Soften's own products and those of the cotton and polyester panels made from recycled textiles. According to the preliminary results, the panels made from recycled textile fibers have good acoustic properties. Turku University of Applied Sciences will continue the study and announce the final results later.
"Products manufactured from textiles look great and could be used in many public spaces where ecology is a priority. I think they would be ideal for Soften’s product range," says Inka Mäkiö of Turku University of Applied Sciences, who was in charge of the testing demo.
Soften has some 11 years of experience of thermoforming and felt-type materials. In the case of recycled fibers, the company has recently conducted extensive tests on pre-processing, thermoforming, cutting and post-processing. The experiments also involved finding the right processing temperatures and times. Bonding and durability tests have also been performed. Many questions remain unanswered, but progress is being made. The best end result would be the creation of a completely new product line for new markets.
"We want to create new business opportunities based on recycling. We used two different recycled textile blends in the thermoforming tests. One involved 50% cotton and the other 50% polyester. Because new materials always require new processing techniques, we have developed new methods for them,” Helle continues.
Helle points out that environmental friendliness is an important aspect for Soften. "95% of the raw materials we use already originate in recycled materials, some from PET recycled bottles, for example," he explains.
PET refers to polyethylene terephthalate, a plastic which is particularly favored by the packaging industry. Pretty well the same fibers are known as polyester or PES fiber in textiles. For example, soft drink bottles and oven-proof plastic dishes are often made from PET plastics.
Soften is participating in the Telaketju project funded by Business Finland, which has involved the creation of a collaborative network promoting the recycling of textiles. The collection, sorting and further processing of recycled textiles, and circular economy business models, are being developed through the project. The objective is an innovative and strong industry based on multi-sectoral collaboration. Textile collectors and processors, organizations developing pre-processing and automated sorting, companies benefiting from the end products, centers organizing social employment, waste facilities, charities and cities are all involved.
A closely formed value network is enabling cooperation between partners and internationally. Last winter, for example, a visit was made to France, where the pilot line of the Laroche factory processed recycled consumer textiles collected and sorted in the Turku region for the Telaketju project. At Laroche, the material was opened to form fibers and fiber batts, from which demo products have been produced since the trip. The material was not directly designed for acoustic panels; the aim of the test runs was to achieve a fiber roll suitable for as many demo products as possible.
"It was a positive surprise that the fiber roll was so suitable as a material for acoustic panels," says Project Manager Henna Knuutila from Turku University of Applied Sciences.
There are several alternative ways of making the felt batt. Using the air-lay technique, the fiber mass is blended and rolled into a batt using blowers. “Test pressing indicates that air-laid batts created from recycled fiber make excellent raw materials for acoustic products,” says Helle.
Sami Helle, CEO
+358 40 567 9356
sami.helle [at] soften.fi
Turku University of Applied Sciences
Henna Knuutila, Project Manager