Elastane is an elastic fibre found in a wide range of textile products including sports clothing, backpacks, hydration devices and tents. Researchers are using low-value plant raw materials to produce bio-based synthetic fibres for the textile industry in a cost-competitive, energy-saving, and environmentally sustainable process.
Man-made fibres such as polyester, acrylics and elastane make up around 75 % of the total fibre market in Europe. Since these synthetic fibres are mostly made from non-renewable petrochemicals, there is an increasing need for bio-based chemicals such as furfural (FF) and hydroxymethyl furfural (HMF) from renewable, natural and non-edible vegetal raw materials.
ECOLASTANE researchers successfully replaced the current low-yield, high energy method of FF production from lignocellulose. Rapid FF extraction prevents FF loss by fragmentation reactions, and low energy-intensive gas-liquid absorption reduces purification costs. The new technology produces FF pentoses using this optimised process version.
The new HMF production method from lignocellulose used hemicellulose as a bio-base, increasing biomass production from 4.8 % to 31 %. To achieve this, researchers optimised the method with the use of cellulose hydrolysis, a novel catalyst and an intermediate isomerisation between glucose and fructose. Also, a four-step extraction process was developed minimising the use of chlorinated solvents.
Updating the bio-tetrahydrofuran (THF) production method helped the team obtain a bio-THF chemically identical to the petrochemical version. With an intermediate bio-based diol, the team obtained 70 % elastane fibres with chemistry and performance the same as the petrochemical alternatives.
ECOLASTANE also developed novel optimised methods for the production of polyester-like synthetic textile fibres. These fibres have good properties and were used to produce textile samples.
Apart from being an eco-friendly alternative to petrochemicals, ECOLASTANE's technology will be independent of rising crude oil prices, making it highly cost effective. European producers will be able to compete against foreign textile imports using ecologically sound technologies to produce bio-based textiles. Consortium partners in the textile industry have validated and tested the new fibres, and an end user has produced a woven textile final material.