Innovative cellulose-based fibers produced in Finland are attracting growing interest as the global fashion industry seeks environmentally friendly alternatives to polyester, cotton and oil-based textiles. For example, the Finnish company Infinited Fiber is constantly receiving inquiries from potential new customers about cellulose carbamate, which is currently in pilot production with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Interested parties include Calvin Klein and VF Corporation.
About ten fashion brands have already committed as customers for cellulose carbamate but Infinited Fiber is still seeking investors to complete the piloting stage for the new fiber which needs EUR 2-3 million annually, says the company's CEO Petri Alava in a recent article by Kauppalehti.
Cellulose carbamate can be produced from cotton-rich textile waste and other biomaterials like wood. The end product is a fiber that is equal in quality to viscose. The production technology can be applied in any existing pulp, dissolving pulp and viscose fiber plant.
Spinnova is another innovative Finnish company responding to the increasing international demand for sustainable textile fibers. The company's unique production method converts pulp directly into textile fiber using 99% less water than cotton production, without chemical solvents, and with zero waste streams. A fabric made with Spinnova fibre can be reused, recycled or composted, which further reduces the product's environmental footprint.
Spinnova's vision is of a more sustainable textile industry, where cellulose-based materials are a cost-efficient, environmentally friendly and preferred option for brands, and available to all consumers. In November 2017, Finnish design company Marimekko announced its support for the development and commercialization of textiles made with Spinnova's technology.
"We believe that cooperation between the textile industry and innovative companies such as Spinnova is key in bringing new materials to the market. It is great to see that such globally significant expertise and technology needed for material development exist in Finland," says Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, President and CEO of Marimekko, in a statement.
Fast-changing fashion is driving the growth of textile consumption globally, annually creating 70 million tons of textile waste that ends up in landfills. The serious environmental problems caused by cotton and viscose production are well-documented. Cellulose-focused research at Finnish universities also aims to tackle these issues. One example is the BioCelSol technology developed by Tampere University of Technology and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, where pulp fibres are modified with enzymes.
Aalto University and the University of Helsinki have developed the Ioncell-F technology to convert cellulose into fibers that can be made into long-lasting fabrics. The raw material can consist of recycled textiles, pulp or even old newspapers and cardboard – all of which can be turned into new textile fibers without harmful chemicals. Finnish forest industry companies Metsä Fibre and Stora Enso are also involved in research on the Ioncell-F process which uses a novel solvent called ionic liquid that can be recycled.
Finnish companies have already attracted international interest
The Finnish companies that are developing new bio-based raw materials for textiles are excellent investment targets and they have already attracted international interest, according to Sari Toivonen, Senior Advisor at Invest in Finland.
"However, these companies are still looking for investors who are ready to invest in the long-term R&D work and pilot plants. This development work requires time but the direction that the market moving is clear: ecological sustainability has become a growing trend in the fashion industry. I believe that eco-friendliness will become a major competitive factor for fashion brands in the near future. Change in the textile industry is also essential for environmental reasons," says Toivonen.
"Finland has become a significant startup incubator for the bioeconomy. It's exciting to see these new cellulose-based fiber products and technologies emerge from Finland's strong forest industry tradition. These innovations also reflect the dynamism of the Finnish ecosystem, supported by far-sighted R&D investments for developing solutions with global market potential."
Read more about bioeconomy in Finland.
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