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Meet Fibers' Green Dream Team



Natural and synthetic fiber producers are on the same team when it comes to offering ecofriendly fibers for nonwovens



By Sandra Levy, Associate Editor



Published June 2, 2010
Related Searches: absorbent baby wipes furniture cotton
Visit the homepage of any natural fiber supplier and chances are you’ll find a link dubbed ‘sustainability’  prominently displayed. Click on the link and you’ll find a slew of ecofriendly initiatives. Now visit the cyber halls of a synthetic fiber supplier. No mention of sustainability, right? Wrong.

These days producers of synthetic fibers have joined their natural counterparts in not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk when it comes to assuming more responsibility for the environment.  While natural fiber suppliers have been enjoying the limelight as renewable and compostable alternatives to synthetic polymers, producers of polyester and polypropylene are making headway launching sustainability initiatives, increasing recyclability efforts, conserving energy and water and reducing landfill space.

The outcome: It’s a win-win situation for nonwovens producers who are increasingly being pressed by consumers and retailers to go green. These days they have a wider choice of fibers for use in a plethora of applications. One of the eye-popping ideas gaining momentum is the use of regenerated fibers and recycled materials.

Keeping scrap materials out of landfills and the need for lower cost raw materials are two driving forces behind the use of regenerated fibers. From scrap cotton T-shirts, to jeans to plastic bottles, nonwovens producers are turning one man’s trash into another man’s treasure and fiber companies are helping them achieve this.

For the past three years Cotton Incorporated has worked with Arizona-based Bonded Logic to convert old blue jeans into household insulation. One of this partnership’s latest efforts is a recent promotion sponsored by Bonded Logic, Cotton Inc. and Gap offering a discount to customers who bring in their old blue jeans to be recycled. These jeans are converted into insulation, which is donated to Habitat For Humanity for housing reconstruction in the Gulf region. “It’s a new use for cotton, a second life that reduces landfill and addresses the need for sustainable, nonwoven building products,” said Janet O’Regan, director of strategic initiatives.

A pioneer in the green movement, Barnhardt has been selling recycled cotton for over 60 years. While recycled, reclaimed or repurposed cotton has been around for many years, Barnhardt is taking the lead in developing homogenous blends with its bleached and purified cotton combined with recycled cotton in a new Eco-Blend line of products. “You are taking fabrics that may have gone to a landfill in the past and regenerating and recycling it back into a usable fiber. That’s great for the environment. A problem with the recycled cotton is that generally it is not highly absorbent. In some wipes applications absorbency may not be a critical requirement so Eco-Blend would be appropriate. Our bleached and purified cotton is highly absorbent. Depending on the end use application we can make blends with bleached cotton and recycled cotton and come up with a product that meets whatever the end use might be,” said George Hargrove, vice president of sales and marketing.

Meanwhile, in the synthetic realm, Foss Manufacturing is making headway converting much of its raw material usage to Ecofi, a polyester fiber made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. Ecofi can be made into clothing, blankets, carpets, wall coverings, auto interiors, home furnishings and craft felt. It can also be blended with other fibers, such as cotton or wool.
Freudenberg is also heeding the call to use recycled materials with Lutradur ECO, a PET spunlaid nonwoven made of post consumer recycled (PCR) material that uses recycled drink bottles.

Available in a variety of weights and widths for all market segments including automotive, carpet, building and industrial, Lutradur ECO has similar product properties as all other high-quality Lutradur products.

Every square yard of pur 85 gsm Lutradur PCR nonwoven fabric contains one two-liter-bottle.
Recycled Plastic

Recycled plastic fibers are also elbowing their way into nonwovens territory.  One company that is making inroads with recycled plastic fibers is Stein Fibers Ltd.  Founded in the mid 1970s, Stein Fibers Ltd. started importing recycled fiber from Korea about 20 years ago. The company continues to import fiber from Korea, Taiwan and China but also makes its own polyester staple fiber at its plants in Georgia and South Carolina. “Needlepunch nonwovens have always been our focus. The polyester synthetic fiber is plastic pellets or chips that are extruded into thin strands of fiber. We take plastic drink bottles and recycle them. They are ground up and then heated up and extruded,” said David Painter, Stein Fibers’ vice president.

Pointing out that Stein Fibers was a proponent of recycling long before it was popular, Mr. Painter said the benefit of synthetics for nonwovens is durability and in the case of a recycled fiber, a smaller carbon footprint. “Cotton brings to the table absorbency where that’s needed, but a polyester fiber is a stronger fiber and has more applications,” said Mr. Painter.

Nonwoven applications include filtration, automotive, insulation filtration, face fabrics, such as surface fabric in trunk liners or carpet or upholstery fabric, home furnishings/furniture, mattresses and top of the bed.  

The plastic raw materials are available in different shapes and forms including bottle flake, which are small flakes from ground up soda bottles and pellets (resin), which are little beads of the polyester polymer. “You can run bottle flake with a resin to increase color or get the whiteness of the fiber,” said Mr. Painter.

Manufacturing colored polyester fiber is one innovation that Stein Fibers is banking on. The company makes a rich, dark black fiber for trunk liners and automotive carpet as well as a green fiber, which is an offshoot of the green raw material from 7-Up bottles.

  “The buzz now is recycling.  The consumer looks around now and realizes the impact we have on our environment in what we buy and how we live. They are looking at ways where they can help a little bit. It’s not a big jump from recycling at home to buying products that have recycled content. It takes 10 plastic bottles to make one pound of fiber, ”said Mr. Painter.

DAK Americas is moving ahead with Clear Path Recycling, a joint venture facility in Fayetteville, NC with Shaw Industries. “When it’s complete, we’ll be the largest PET bottle recycler in North America and the result of that venture will be the creation of a very high quality, consistent volume of recycled PET flake. Our intention is to use that as the foundation to begin looking for opportunities to integrate the recycled PET flake into our product lines.   A small line is due to come on line shortly and the larger line will be up and running later in the year,” said Wayne Proctor, senior manager of sales and marketing.  

Taiwan’s Far Eastern New Century Corporation is getting in on the act with Ecolon fiber. “It is a regenerated raw material that is recycled from PET bottles. It is a new environmental friendly and ecological product,” said Vincent Kuo, coordinator of R&D polyester staple fiber division, Far Eastern New Century Corporation.

The company produces polyester and specialty fibers for thermal bond, chemical bond, needlepunch, airlaid, wetlaid, Spunlace, and stitch punch. Nonwoven applications include hygiene, coverstock, bandages, upholstery, mattresses, padding, interlining, artificial leather, carpet, needle felt, wiper, insulation, cushion and fiberfill.

Far Eastern New Century also produces PLA fiber in its factory in Taiwan using NatureWorks’ PLA resin(chips). “The Ingeo fiber starts with an abundant, natural and sustainable raw material like corn. Overall, PLA fiber fabrics released significantly less smoke than PET or cotton fabrics. This fiber possesses low flammability and smoke generation. It’s biodegradable and there is no environmental contamination. This fiber is focused on disposable applications. Ingeo means ingredient from the earth and keeps humanity, nature and technology in balance. It reduces fossil resource use, reduces CO2 emissions, and is an annually renewable resource,” said Mr. Kuo.

Waste Not, Want Not

Recycling post industrial waste is another awesome innovation in nonwovens fibers. Leigh Fibers is one company that has been on a tear in this arena.

Applications include automotive, caskets, construction, currency, paper erosion control, filtration, furniture, home furnishings, mattresses, and pet products.

“Most of the synthetic fibers we use are post industrial. It could be a blanket where scrap falls off. We open it up and turn it back into a fiber.  It’s waste going into a product that doesn’t go to a landfill. It was probably falling off to the floor. Since it’s clean and brand new it is opened back up,” said George Martin, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“Growth is going to come from the green, sustainability angle. We take the waste and ensure it doesn’t end up on the street and doesn’t go to a landfill. Normally it’s brand new material. In addition to that there’s post industrial and post consumer. Lots of times, bales of used cloth are turned in and we shred it up,” said Mr. Martin.

Leigh Fibers recently introduced SafeLeigh, an aramid fiber. “We’ve included in a blend an aramid fiber that is inherently FR. We use cuttings from the manufacturing process for firemen’s jackets, bullet-proof vests and any type of protective gear that prevents someone from cuts or being burned. The material is added into our mix. It’s recycled material from post industrial waste and has inherent properties. We have a dry process as opposed to a wet process,” said Mr. Martin.

Mr. Martin postulated that post consumer will play a greater role than post industrial in nonwovens fibers provided the problem of collection is solved. “Machines are so efficient that there’s not as much post industrial available. In post consumer there’s a huge amount of waste available. The problem is collection. Today if you decide to change carpet, how is the carpet going to get to a recycling facility like ours?”

Leigh recently introduced two additions to its SafeLeigh line of fire-retardant, recycled fibers. SafeLeigh Natural and SafeLeigh Premium are predominantly meta-aramid and made with 100% recycled post-industrial materials.

SafeLeigh meta-aramid recycled fibers are ideal for flame-retardant fabrics and other heat shielding applications, according to the company.  They are suitable for coarse yarn spinning and for the nonwoven fabrics used in bedding, filtration and many other products.  SafeLeigh Natural is a natural colored fiber while SafeLeigh Premium is a multicolored fiber.

Another experienced player in the production of aramid fibers for flame and heat resistant protective clothing is Kermel. Based in France, offers new fabrics and protective clothing made out of its Kermel fiber. Fire suits for fire fighters, together with protective coveralls for public order squads, military and industrial uses are some of the most popular applications.

Kermel is also involved in technical applications with Kermel and Kermel Tech fibers. Thanks to their chemical structure (aromatic polyimide-polyamide type), Kermel Tech and Kermel fibers are inherently and permanently non-flammable. They provide maximum protection against high temperatures in very stringent environments, efficient protection against chemical agents and very good mechanical resistance. They can be used for maximal short term resistance against very high temperatures—up to 1000°C; and  long term resistance against high temperatures—up to 220°C (peaks: up to 240°C).

Kermel products can be transformed into different kinds of textiles: fibers (long or short staple), technical yarns, fabrics, nonwovens.

Kermel is offering new solutions for industrial and technical applications subjected to high temperatures and flames such as: transports (aeronautics, automotive industries etc.), hot gas filtration, different industrial applications and electrical insulation.

One of the latest developments is the launch of high speed sports underwear and garments with the newly deposited SKEED brand name. SKEED introduces the first FIM recommended underwear for competition and touring motorcyclists with increased comfort that will lower the risk of burns due to friction in case of fall.

Wood Works

Cellulose or rayon, made from wood pulp, has been enjoying its role as a sustainable fiber option in nonwovens materials. These fibers are growing their presence in wet and dry wipes, tampons, technical applications such as filtration and battery separators and medical wound care.                      

“Sustainability topics are becoming increasingly important to consumers. They are looking at the packaging to see if the product is biodegradable or if it’s coming from a natural source. In the last two to three years we have been highlighting the fact that we are producing pulp from wood and from this pulp, we are producing our fibers. We are working with a sustainable source that is both renewable and biodegradable,” said Wolfgang Plasser, vice president of  Lenzing’s Business Unit Nonwovens.

With operations around the world, Lenzing’s Viscose and Tencel brand has increased its profile in nonwovens as the industry’s environmental awareness has grown. Lenzing Viscose has become environmentally responsible by continuous investments in research and development.  “We recycle chemicals to reuse them in the production process. These recycling loops clearly differentiate Lenzing Viscose from other viscose fibers on the market,” said Mr. Plasser.     
Flushability of products, especially wipes is another trend that is gaining traction. “Short cut fibers support this procedure since they disperse in water. This allows the disposal via the wastewater system without burdening the drainage systems,” said Mr. Plasser. Lenzing produces Tencel short cut fibers ranging from two to 12 millimeters in length. The application areas include flushable wipes as well as technical applications such as specialty papers for battery separators.
Lenzing is positioning itself for future growth by its recent acquisition of a 75% share in Czech pulp producer Biocel Paskov. “We are doing our own pulp production to a certain extent and we are buying pulp from the free market.  With this deal we have the opportunity to produce more pulp to meet the announced capacity expansions,” said Mr. Plasser.

Another company helping to expand the role of viscose specialty fibers in nonwovens is Kelheim Fibres. The company’s Danufil is used in all types of nonwovens; its Galaxy fiber is the world market leader in the production of tampons, and  Viloft nonwoven is a fiber which is used for flushable wipes.

Kelheim’s commercial director Matthew North, said, “Our fibers are made completely out of wood pulp and are therefore fully biodegradable. Viscose fibers are man-made and therefore exhibit consistent properties, which are not found in natural fibers. This is a very important aspect for further processing and the properties of the final product. Beyond that, our fibers can deliver different characteristics depending on the end use our customers are targeting. Galaxy, our tampon specialty fiber has extremely high absorbency. Viloft nonwoven is a very soft fiber and retains its softness in contact with fluids. After use, it enhances the disintegration process of nonwoven materials.”

No stranger to the green movement, Mr. North said that viscose fibers have a proven track record in this area. “They are made completely out of wood pulp from managed plantations and are therefore fully biodegradable. In our production processes we make efficient use of resources such as energy and water. Our fibers meet the requirements of the FSC-Standard and are registered by Dincertco as a compostable material. They are certified to the Oeko-Tex 100 standard for use in baby applications, the most sensitive product area.”

Emphasizing that Kelheim recently broadened its range of products to offer fibers with even more functionalities, Mr. North said its new viscose specialty Bellini offers a very high self-bonding capacity and is targeted to paper and wetlaid applications. “Verdi and Dante fibers excel by their increased absorbency in combination with a gel effect on the fiber surface. Medical products, like coagulating wound dressings, can benefit from this,” said Mr. North.

Kelheim’s Poseidon is a viscose specialty fiber with ion exchanging properties. “These fibers may easily be incorporated in papers or nonwovens—in contrast to ion exchange granulates—and these are used in filtration cartridges of any shape. Due to the very small size of the active particles and the high number of fine and short viscose fibers in the paper a very large active surface is obtained and with this, an excellent ion exchange quota,” said Mr. North.

According to Mr. North the markets for specialty papers for tea bags, coffee pads and other types of filters are growing. “We are discovering new benefits resulting from the application of viscose fibers in different specialty papers,” he said.

Picking Cotton

In addition to cellulose, cotton, perhaps one of the oldest and most well known natural fibers is gaining popularity in many nonwovens sectors.  Much of this growth can be attributed to advances in spunlace technology to better process cotton but the efforts of Cotton Incorporated cannot be ignored.

Pointing out that the nonwovens industry developed around petrochemically based raw materials, Ms. O’Regan said, “The advancement in hydroentanglement technology paralleled the growth and supported the growth of the wipes industry and cotton was just a natural. It’s absorbent, soft, hypoallergenic and biodegradable. There are a lot of benefits that really fit the market particularly when you are talking about contact with the skin. With wipes you don’t want the ones on top dry and the bottom ones swimming.  Cotton naturally absorbs the moisture right up into the fiber and holds it there very well.”

Ms. O’Regan predicted that baby wipe, personal care wipe, household wipe and industrial wipe applications will continue to provide growth for cotton. Future growth is also expected to come from feminine hygiene, diapers and adult incontinence applications.  “As people age, their skin becomes more sensitive. Against the skin of someone who has incontinence problems cotton is kinder and healthier than all other fibers,” said Ms. O’Regan.

While cotton is favored for its absorbency and strength, particularly when wet, many critics argue that cotton is taking up land that could be used for food crops.  Ms. O’Regan countered, “Over the past 50 years, our population around the world has grown from three billion to more than 6.8 billion. The demand for cotton has more than doubled over that time period. The amount of land used to provide that cotton to the markets has remained unchanged at approximately 35 million hectares. Furthermore, cotton seed is used for food as well as biodiesel fuel. The cotton plant contributes to feeding and clothing the world.”

Cotton has also received a bad rap when it comes to the amount of water that is used to grow the crop. Ms. O’Regan argued, “In the U.S. two-thirds of the crop grows by virtue of natural rainfall. The other one-third gets targeted irrigation only where needed. On a global basis about half the crop gets some irrigation.”

Virgin Cotton

Using virgin or raw cotton in nonwovens is another trend that is likely to become firmly entrenched in the nonwovens world. “As it is harvested and ginned cotton fiber is in its virgin or raw state. The fiber in that form is naturally hydrophobic and oleophilic. Sellars Wipers and Sorbents is one company which is using virgin cotton to make oil spill clean up pads for industrial uses. Studies with hydroentanglement technology have shown that when the virgin cotton is entangled, the water pressure and temperature wash some of the oils and pectin off the fibers. At the end of the line the material has the ability to absorb oil and water,” said Ms. O’Regan.
One company betting on the growth of virgin cotton in the nonwovens arena is T.J. Beall Company. The company recently launched UltraClean 100% virgin cotton. Applications include hygiene products, feminine care hygiene, personal care, hard surface, industrial wipers, feminine hygiene products, filtration, home furnishing and bedding, geotextiles and healthcare.  
Lawson Gary, T.J. Beall’s president of manufacturing said, “It is an unbleached virgin cotton fiber that requires no chemicals, water or process heat to purify. The simplicity of our cleaning process ensures that our variable costs remain at a relatively low level and these cost savings are passed on to our customers. Our unique purification process allows us to offer one of the most competitively priced staple fibers on the market along with an unprecedented green story. Because our cleaning process does not strip the natural lubrication from the fibers there is little to no loss in production efficiency associated with running our fibers. Historically, natural fibers have gotten a bad name for not processing well on nonwovens machinery.”
Cotton, Cotton, Everywhere

The trend to use a greater percentage of cotton in nonwovens, especially in wipes is showing signs of life.   Mr. Hargrove said, “Cotton has been a mainstay in traditional consumer products like Q-tips, swabs, tampons and cotton balls for many years. About five years ago we began an initiative to introduce cotton into baby wipes. In 2009, nine of the top 10 mass-merchandisers in the U.S. market had cotton in their wipes as part of their blend.”

Independent studies show that mothers prefer cotton in wipes. “There was further evidence that cotton outperformed other fibers in its wiping performance wet or dry,” said Mr. Hargrove. “One survey asked women to feel fabric samples in a blind panel test which utilized cotton at different percentages and other fabrics made from rayon, Tencel and polyester. “In every case, the cotton-containing fabric was selected as the softest fabric. This was in a wet wipe form.”

Mr. Hargrove predicted that cotton will be used in baby wipes, personal wipes for facial care and other skin-related hygiene products. Medical and cleanroom applications as well as household wipes will also begin to see cotton. “Cotton has proven to outperform other fibers and blends well with all other fibers,” said Mr. Hargrove. He predicted that personal care products containing cotton will hit the shelves by mid 2010.

Another trend that is taking hold is cotton going into medical wiping products, feminine hygiene products and incontinence products. “These products typically have not had cotton. There’s a broad appeal for cotton in any fabric close to the skin. Another trend for this year is for higher percentages (than the 15% that was originally used) of cotton to be used in substrates. You’ll see products on the market this year in the 30% to 40% range because the higher percentage cotton you use the better the attributes of the cotton surface. You get increased softness and improved wiping performance. You’ll see the trend toward higher percentages of cotton in the second half of the year,” predicted Mr. Hargrove.

Emphasizing that five years ago most of the nonwovens rolls good producers did not have the capability of running cotton in their products, Mr. Hargrove said today most of them have improved their filtration systems and have cotton producing capabilities.

Polyester Performs

Experienced polyester fiber producer DAK Americas is also heading in a nonwovens direction with Delcron Hydrotec, a moisture management fiber that provides wicking ability. The fiber had its origin in textiles in knit goods. We’ve incorporated Hydrotec into nonwovens and spunlace. The key part of Hydrotec is that it’s a permanent hydrophilic. It’s integrated into the polymer itself. It won’t wear off or wash off. It’s in the polymer chemistry.  It’s in the early stages of spunlace. We think it will have an application in the wipes business. It was a fiber we’ve had as a product for several years. DAK Americas just introduced it into the nonwovens arena,” said Mr. Proctor.
DAK Americas also offers SteriPur AM, a silver-based antimicrobial fiber aimed primarily at the needlepunch filtration market.  “Silver inhibits the growth of bacteria. It’s also permanent. It doesn’t wash off or wear off. We have modified the polymer chemistry to deliver these functional attributes,” said Mr. Proctor.

Another longstanding player, Consolidated Fibers offers bicomponent staple fibers, (copolyester bicomponent fibers, polyester core polyethylene sheath bicomponents and polypropylene core) which are used in thermal bonded nonwoven applications for airlaid feminine hygiene products, wipes, automotive interior trim parts, furniture and bedding.

The company’s fiber roster also includes the following: rayon fibers for hygiene and wiping applications; flame retardant fibers for mattresses, bedding and automotive applications; colored fibers, such as black fiber for automotive end uses; Type 6 and Type 6,6 nylon staple; and recycled post consumer and post industrial polyester fibers.   

Consolidated Fibers is seeing an increase in interest in its bamboo offering, according to Paul Latten, division president, international and technical fibers.  

Pointing out that bamboo can be used mainly in wiping applications for their customers, Mr. Latten said in addition to an increased interest in sustainability, bamboo provides an alternative to viscose rayon.  “The bamboo we sell uses a rayon process. Rayon has been tight in supply and the price has gone up. People are looking for an alternative to escalating rayon prices,” he said.

Sweet As Sugar

One of the sweetest ideas in fibers for nonwovens is the use of polylactic acid (PLA). NatureWorks, a polymer manufacturer makes INGEO PLA resin, derived from plant sugars, for a more ecofriendly polymer option.  Already the material has found a place in nonwovens wipes, diapers and feminine hygiene products.       

Robert Green, NatureWorks’ Americas director of fibers and nonwovens, said, “The unique characteristic of our material is that it is made from plant sugars so it’s an annually renewable plant-based raw material that’s replacing conventional plastics like polypropylene and polyester, which come from petroleum-based sources. It gives you a bio-based raw material source so you have more stable pricing over time that is not as subject to fluctuating oil prices. It’s more environment friendly in that fewer greenhouse gases are produced from the manufacturing of the product--compared to polyesters about 60% fewer greenhouse gases are generated and significantly less energy is required,” said Mr. Green.

According to Mr. Green, Ingeo PLA has very good inherent wicking properties as well as UV performance and inherent flammability characteristics. “People are learning more about how to process it and how to take advantage of it in new and different applications and broaden the performance window. It has a meltpoint in the same range as a polypropylene so if you are replacing a polyester fiber that may be something you have to look at in terms of how you process it,” said Mr. Green.

Mr. Green foresees growth in PLA used in meltblown applications. “There’s going to continue to be a lot of work in new applications being developed, whether a material by itself or in combination with other bio products or additives. We’re just starting to scratch the surface.  One additional advantage when combining our material with natural fibers is our material behaves like a thermoplastic. You can calender it, emboss it and thermal bond.  With nonwovens there are so many different components. Our material provides a lot of options to help folks in the supply chain create more sustainable solutions be that in combination with cotton, a viscose or some other natural fiber or maybe even a recycled polyester.”

Looking Ahead

Natural or Synthetic? While it’s anyone’s guess where the next innovative fiber for nonwovens will come from next, one thing is certain. Fiber suppliers in both camps are busy exploring the next must-have fiber for nonwovens.

Mr. Plasser envisions raw materials other than wood may play a role in the future of Lenzing’s nonwoven fiber portfolio. Lenzing currently makes pulp from beachwood and eucalyptus. “There are some ideas to use alternative sustainable raw materials. We are currently looking at various options, but no decisions have been made for expanding the Lenzing nonwovens fiber portfolio,” said Mr. Plasser.

Lenzing believes that there is a perception issue with wipes which are used once and thrown away.  “Consumers want to know if they can degrade in soil or remain for decades like polyester which is not biodegradable and which is also used frequently in wipes. There’s a proven test to show that a wipe made from Lenzing Viscose or Tencel will degrade in less than 12 weeks, which is the recognized international standard,” said Mr. Plasser.

Emphasizing that in the future green issues will become even more important, Mr. Plasser said,” It’s a strong driver today but we see these things getting stronger from month to month and year to year. We have realized that there are differences concerning the importance consumers place on individual certifications. Beyond this, not all certificates are known in all countries. As a global player, we need to deal with that. When choosing certification schemes we do our best to meet the needs of the consumers. This is how we came up with certifications such as FSC or DIN CERTCO’s compostable label,”said Mr. Plasser.

Cotton Incorporated’s Ms. O’Regan foresees the future will include discoveries about how to utilize cotton in its many forms. “There is work underway around the world to better understand how cotton can bring value to the diverse nonwovens industry,”she said.  USDA’s Cotton Utilization and Chemistry group, located at the Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, LA is one group contributing to the advancement of knowledge pertaining to the use of cotton in nonwovens.  Their aim is to help industry  produce new and different products that bring value to markets and profits to companies.  

Leigh’s Mr. Martin expects there will be an increasing demand for natural fibers such as jute coffee bags and anaf, a coconut fiber. Mr. Martin envisions that more products will be designed to be recycled. He also forecasts that fire retardancy will become a dominant trend.

Mr. Painter said, “There are things we’re not even realizing yet. Take a look at what goes to our landfills and think about how those can be reused or used again. We’ve got some affiliated companies we do business with who are recycling used carpeting, where they are able to bring that fiber back into use and be recycled as a carpet fiber.”

For Consolidated Fibers the future is likely to include post consumer recycled fiber for spunlace, low cost bico fiber for airlaid wipes, a more  “absorbent”  polyester for spunlace and others. “Offering specific fiber solutions to our partners is a critical focus for us now.  Whether it is consulting with a client to improve fiber processing, working with them to keep edge trim out of a landfill, or sharing fiber market knowledge from our team in the U.S., India, China, Korea and Mexico we are about helping customers  solve problems.  Value pricing is our everyday mission...that continues,”said Mr. Latten.

In the next few years there will likely be more switching from polypropylene to polyester in some nonwoven applications, according to Mr. Latten. “For several years, polypropylene was less expensive than polyester. Now it is more expensive and expected to remain so for several years. One of the trends you’re likely to see is a switch back from polypropylene to polyester in some applications. Several automotive applications have moved from poly­propylene to polyester. In some hygiene, geotextile, filtration and perhaps medical applications we may see a switch to polyester too,” said Mr. Latten.

Perhaps Ms. O’Regan summed up the future of fibers in nonwovens best when she said, “Looking around the world, there is interest and a growing demand for sustainable, natural, biodegradable products. A couple of years ago, a lot of people thought sustainability was a fad. I don’t think there is anyone who would not say this is the future of our lives and our industry."