Ecological Textile Fibres from Finland – Where Are We Now?
The new, ecological textile fibres developed in Finland are generating widespread international interest. Spinnova, Infinited Fiber Company, Ioncell (developed by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Fortum and Metsä Spring are currently developing new fibres.
Cellulose-based textile fibre innovations will be replacing the use of traditional materials such as cotton, viscose or polyester in the future.
These new textile fibres have a great deal in common, yet, they differ in the way they are manufactured. Nevertheless, the objective behind all these fibre innovations is to develop more environmentally friendly manufacturing methods utilising responsible raw material. There is a large number of potential uses. The materials are suitable for clothing and household textiles as well as for non-woven fabrics, composites and yarn for crafting.
Here you can find out more about the Finnish companies working on their fibre innovations and commercialisation in the following.
SPINNOVA® fibre is manufactured by mechanically refining pulp into microfibrillated cellulose (MFC). Spinnova uses FSC certified wood pulp but can also use post-consumer textile waste and agricultural waste, such as wheat or barley straw, as raw material.
Raw material: SPINNOVA® fibre is manufactured by mechanically refining pulp into microfibrillated cellulose (MFC). Spinnova uses FSC certified wood pulp but can also use post-consumer textile waste and agricultural waste, such as wheat or barley straw, as raw material.
Method: Closed loop manufacturing does not require any harmful chemicals or solvents. There are no waste streams. The method is significantly more environmentally friendly than the manufacturing of cotton or viscose: for example, according to Spinnova, the process uses 99% less water compared to manufacturing of cotton. The material can be recycled again and again without the quality of the fibre deteriorating. The fibre is low-carbon and biodegradable.
Properties of material: The hand feel is closest to cotton or linen. The fibre is strong, and it takes dye well. The insulation capability is on a par with wool.
Objectives and cooperation: The Spinnova fibre is on the verge of commercialisation. In February of 2021, Spinnova and Suzano announced an investment of EUR 22 million to build a commercial scale SPINNOVA® fibre production facility in Jyväskylä, Finland. It will be built in 2022.
Suzano is world’s leading producer of eucalyptus pulp and a co-owner of Spinnova. Spinnova is the technology supplier of the joint venture whereas Suzano is responsible for the availability of pulp. SPINNOVA® fibre will be globally available for textile brands in 2022.
Lenzing has also been a strategic partner and a co-owner of Spinnova from the beginning.
Spinnova is cooperating with international clothing brands such as H&M and Bestseller. In 2020, Marimekko and Spinnova introduced the first demo products featuring clothing with prints. Spinnova cooperated with the Norwegian company, Bergans, developing a collection of fully circular products called the Collection of Tomorrow.
Infinited Fiber Company
Infinited Fiber developed a cellulose carbamate technology that enables making completely new textile fibre from textile waste. Infinna® fibre can also be made using other waste streams, such as recycled cardboard and paper as well as wheat straw coming from agricultural origin.
Raw material: Infinited Fiber developed a cellulose carbamate technology that enables making completely new textile fibre from textile waste. Infinna® fibre can also be made using other waste streams, such as recycled cardboard and paper as well as wheat straw coming from agricultural origin.
Method: The manufacturing of the fibre is adapted according to the raw material used in the process. The textile waste is sorted by type and then mechanically shredded. Cellulose fibres are then separated from other fibres, e.g. polyester. The process results in cellulose carbamate powder which is turned into liquid form. The liquid is spun into fibres.
After use the textiles made from the Infinna fibre can be recycled again with other textile waste using the same process. The fibre is biodegradable.
The manufacturing of Infinna produces less carbon dioxide emissions than the production of cotton, viscose and polyester. Also water is used considerably less than in cotton production: Infinna fibre needed for a single T-shirt takes about 14 litres of water whereas producing the same amount of cotton requires over 600 litres of water.
Properties of material: Infinna has a natural, cotton-like feel and it takes dye well. Infinna can be used just like any other textile fibre to manufacture yarn and fabric. It has already been used in making different types of textiles and clothing.
Objectives and cooperation: Infinited Fiber Company’s Infinna is on the verge of commercialisation. The piloting of the fibre manufacturing began in Espoo, Finland, in 2018 and in the beginning of 2020 the company opened a factory in Valkeakoski. In April of 2021 the company announced that it will be investing EUR 220 million in a textile fibre factory. It, too, will be in Finland.
Even though the technology is developed in Finland, the marketing potential is global. The manufacturing method can be used in existing cellulose and viscose fibre factories. The objective of the company is to license the technology.
Infinited Fiber Company has attracted prominent cooperating partners worldwide. H&M Group, BESTSELLER, PVH Corp., Wrangler, Patagonia and the Finnish manufacturer of non-woven fabrics, Suominen, are among the clients. H&M Group’s brand, Weekday, launched the first commercial product, jeans made from Infinna and organic cotton, in the beginning of 2021.
Infinited Fiber is heading a project called the New Cotton Project. It aims to model and demonstrate the circularity across the value chain and to boost circular economy throughout the entire clothing industry. The EU-funded project focuses on manufacturing new textiles from collected textile waste using the Infinited Fiber technology. The products are sold by Adidas and H&M Group.
The Ioncell technology was developed by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. It enables manufacturing high-quality textile fibre using wood, recycled paper and cardboard as well as textile waste.
Raw material: The Ioncell technology was developed by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki. It enables manufacturing high-quality textile fibre using wood, recycled paper and cardboard as well as textile waste.
Method: The only chemicals used in the Ioncell production process are non-toxic ionic liquid and water. Those, too, can be recycled in the process.
Properties of material: Ioncell fibre has the soft feel of a natural fibre, a silky sheen and it is very strong even when wet. Fabric made from the fibre takes dye well and is easy use. Ioncell, too, is biodegradable.
Objectives and cooperation: Even though the development of Ioncell has so far been a research project, the objective is to start the commercialisation of the fibre in the coming years.
A pilot-scale plant for the development of Ioncell is under construction in Otaniemi, Finland. Finding an industrial operator is another objective the company is working towards.
Over the years Ioncell has been tested for different uses with many companies. The Ioncell fibre is suitable also for the manufacturing of non-woven textiles.
In 2020, Ioncell was tested in a cooperation with Marimekko. The effort resulted in the manufacturing of a dress with the Unikko (poppy) print using dissolving pulp made of birch as raw material. In a cooperation with Lindström, Ioncell modelled the manufacturing of new fibres using used cotton towel roll.
Metsä Fibre, part of Metsä Group, provides the undried paper pulp utilised in this method.
Raw material: Metsä Fibre, part of Metsä Group, provides the undried paper pulp utilised in this method.
Method: The method is based on direct dissolution using a novel ionic solution as solvent for the pulp.
Properties of material: Metsä Group’s innovation company Metsä Spring’s manufacturing method was used to make a textile fibre called Kuura. It is similar to lyocell, biodegradable and suitable for recycling using the same process.
Objectives and cooperation: Metsä Spring and Japanese Itochu established a joint venture in the spring of 2018 building a demo plant in Äänekoski, Finland. The duration of the demo plant phase will be approximately two years. Metsä Group is considering investing into a larger textile fibre plant alongside its bioproduct mill. The production capacity could be as high as 50 000 tonnes per year.
Kuura textile fibre was introduced to the general public during Japan Fashion Week in March 2021 together with Itochu and clothing brand The Reracs.
In 2020, Metsä Group and Fortum began cooperating on a project called ExpandFibre. Business Finland’s project aims to accelerate the development of technologies focusing on the business of manufacturing textile fibres and other bioproducts using straw and wood pulp.
Fortum’s Bio2™Textile’s raw material is pulp that comes from fractionated straw pulp which is spun into textile fibres.
Material: Fortum’s Bio2™Textile’s raw material is pulp that comes from fractionated straw pulp which is spun into textile fibres.
Method: Fortum’s biorefineries process biomass raw material using the fractionation technology of Chempolis Oy. The processing of pulp made from fractionated straw is at the most advanced stage in the product development.
Objectives and cooperation: Biomass in going to waste in the world today. Straw is crop production side stream which has considerable untapped potential. In the developing countries it is often burned resulting in significant CO² emissions. Fortum Bio2X aims to develop high value items especially using agricultural waste. The objective is to replace the use of fossil material and other similar materials that have an environmental impact. The use of straw as raw material minimises waste. Reduction in the use of water and chemicals means fewer environmental problems. In addition, this reduces soil degradation and deforestation and boosts regional prosperity and wellbeing.
Bio2X ecosystem programme is going forward and building its first biorefinery in India. The operation is due to begin in 2022. The company has already made its first straw-based clothing using the different technologies.
In the beginning of 2021, Bio2™Textile was introduced to international audiences in the Pitti Connect event. Awarded designer Rolf Ekroth used Bio2™Textile fibres in his AW21 collection. The fibres were manufactured using the technology of Infinited Fiber Company.
Biocelsol has been made mostly from dissolving wood pulp but the fibre can also be manufactured using paper pulp and cotton textile waste.
Material: Biocelsol has been made mostly from dissolving wood pulp but the fibre can also be manufactured using paper pulp and cotton textile waste.
Method: Biocelsol is a technology developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Tampere University of Technology. Pulp is processed with enzymes, then it is dissolved and spun using wet-spinning technique. There are no toxic chemicals and no harmful emissions.
Feel of material: The finished fibre has properties similar to viscose but the fibre absorbs moisture better than cotton or viscose. It takes dye very well and does not get static. Fabric made using Biocelsol has a nice drape to it and it keeps you warm.
Objectives and cooperation: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is currently looking for partners to continue developing the Biocelsol technology even further and to come up with different uses for it. There is a strong global interest in the technology and it is on the rise.