Twenty years ago the Tencel plant in Mobile was the first large-scale industrial production site in the world for the new lyocell fibers. The factory was originally built by the British company Courtaulds plc., a former Lenzing competitor. Lenzing also took over this facility within the context of the acquisition of the Tencel Group in the year 2004. In recent years it has been technologically upgraded, and annual production capacity was increased to the current level of about 50,000 tons of Tencel fibers. Today Lenzing manufactures Tencel fibers at three sites: Heiligenkreuz, Austria, with an annual capacity of 60,000 tons; Grimsby, Great Britain, featuring a capacity of approximately 40,000 tons each year; and the Mobile, AL, plant. A fourth production plant is currently being constructed in Lenzing, Upper Austria. Total annual capacity will amount to 60,000 tons, and the facility will be the first second-generation Tencel plant from a technological perspective.
On the occasion of the special commemorative ceremony, Lenzing CEO Peter Untersperger emphasized the tremendous importance of the Tencel technology. “Tencel has been the biggest technological step forward in the man-made cellulose fiber industry since the invention of viscose fibers about 100 years ago," he said. "The development of the fiber over the last 20 years only marks the beginning of a success story which will continue for many decades to come. Tencel ideally combines the need for competitive production costs compared to other fibers with the requirement of ensuring sustainable, environmentally compatible production. Tencel is a breakthrough technology, and I am proud that the Lenzing Group is by far the world’s number one provider of Tencel fibers.“
The beginnings: A competitive race between giants
The initial phase in the development of lyocell fibers, marketed by Lenzing today exclusively under the brand name Tencel, was characterized by a bitter rivalry between the Lenzing Group and Courtaulds. Both companies conducted research in competition with each other to become the first of the two firms to launch promising new fibers on the marketplace. At the production start in Mobile in 1992, Courtaulds had a competitive edge, but Lenzing’s first large-scale lyocell factory in Heiligenkreuz, Burgenland, was already in the pipeline. It was successfully put into operation in 1997. In 2004, Lenzing finally acquired the Tencel Group and all its production sites.
The merger of Tencel and Lenzing led to a bundling of their collective strengths. The two-way know-how exchange and the decision to consolidate research and development on Tencel fibers at one site finally led to the sought-after breakthrough on the marketplace for the new generation of fibers. The range of applications was expanded, and the Tencel business subsequently developed very dynamically, spreading from the U.S. to Europe and Asia.
At the present time Tencel fibers are used by the textile industry as well as for nonwovens. The production process is particularly environmentally compatible, and is characterized by the nearly complete recovery of the deployed solvent.
Lenzing is continuously developing new applications in cooperation with customers and partners. The optimal moisture management of Tencel fibers makes them attractive for use in home textiles such as mattresses, quilts and bed linen as well as sportswear and women’s outerwear. Tencel is also integrated into sensitive segments such as cosmetics, hygiene, and medicine, for example in wound dressings and baby wipes. In the technical segment, Tencelds is used, for example, to strengthen plastics or to manufacture electrotechnical components.