Spinnova technology has won the Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Award in the experimental category for creating fibre from cellulose. This technology can make fabric from old clothing, agriculture waste and even trees, without the environmental challenges of older materials. It is an initiative towards stopping the bad effects of cotton production. The process has advantages over cotton, which requires large amounts of water to grow–often in water-stressed regions–and also uses large amounts of pesticides, Fast Company said.
“Our water usage is minimal,” said Janne Poranen, CEO and Co-Founder of Spinnova. The startup has calculated that it uses more than 99 per cent less water than cotton, largely because it’s using trees that don’t need irrigation as they grow. The process also doesn’t use harmful chemicals. Unlike some other materials that can be made from trees, such as viscose, it doesn’t use chemicals to break down tough fibers. The process is mechanical. “We’re able to produce continuous filament, which is basically all-natural. That is unique. The material also avoids the problems of synthetic fabrics like polyester, which are typically made from fossil fuels and can contribute to plastic waste in the ocean when tiny fibers break off of clothing in washing machines and flow down drains into waterways,” explained Poranen.
The company is beginning first with wood pulp as a raw material–perhaps unsurprisingly, since it’s based in a region known for forestry and forest products–and with wheat straw, a form of agricultural waste. But over the last few years, it has experimented with multiple other sources of fibre, from carrot peels to cotton clothing.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of what options we have available as raw materials. Clothing as a source of fiber is particularly interesting, because cotton is typically difficult to recycle; if you drop off a pair of old jeans for recycling at a store, they’ll likely turn into a lower-quality material like insulation. The new process, which creates a gel-like material called microfibrillated cellulose, re-creates a high-quality fabric. In theory, brands could take back their old clothing to use as raw material in a fully closed loop. As Spinnova ramps up production at its new factory, it’s now in talks with clothing companies that want to do exactly that,” explained the website.