The ITMA Blog


Closer to closing that loop

by Adrian Wilson | 20 Nov, 2015

Alan Gelder, an analyst at the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, identified the technology with the most potential to topple the world’s reliance on oil, when he spoke at the 2015 Fibres Conference held in Milan just prior to ITMA 2015.

‘The Stone Age didn’t end because of a lack of stones’ is an oft-quoted analogy to the Peak Oil situation, but right now, oil is around US$45 a barrel, which keeps the cost of many related things low, including synthetic fibres.

Gelder pointed out, however, that once an iPhone battery that can last a week becomes a reality, electric cars and many other new developments will become much more realistic propositions.

“The biggest threat to oil’s dominance is battery technology and energy storage,” he said, bringing me conveniently to one of the many interesting Research and Developments projects which have been showcased in Hall 8 at ITMA 2015.


Energy generating and storing fibres have been developed by companies working within the European Union Powerweave project.


The 42-month, €4 million EU Powerweave project was launched in June 2012 and has brought together 13 European members from seven countries. Its objective has been to develop a fibrous matrix capable of generating and storing energy.

The resulting battery fibres are not, at this stage, likely to last long as yarns in the high speed weaving machines here at ITMA 2015. They consist of a number of layers – a current collector, electrodes and an electrolyte – contained within a protective sheathing. Simpler photovoltaic fibres with high potential have also been developed, but what’s needed now – after the feasibility has been demonstrated – is for a major corporation – most likely an Apple or a Google – to take these developments forward, because conformable fabric batteries would provide a wide number of benefits.


Energy generating and storing fibres have been developed by companies working within the European Union Powerweave project.


Another Hall 8 exhibitor, the VTT Research Centre of Finland, has meanwhile been promoting the Relooping Fashion Initiative in which it is involved, for turning used cotton apparel into new fabrics.

Recycling cotton apparel into workable yarns is fraught with problems because among other things, the worn-out fibres are too short to be spun into new yarns and there is considerable contamination to deal with. VTT’s dissolution technology though, is said to overcome these problems, allowing virtually unlimited recycling and the ability to make cellulosic fibres and yarns that can be reused in clothing – and without the addition of any harmful chemicals or additional virgin fibres.

It will be interesting to see how far this project has got in four years’ time at ITMA 2019 in Barcelona.

More commercially viable than closed loop clothing recycling at present, is turning waste directly into nonwovens that have applications in fields such as insulation and industrial wipes, or the conversion of synthetic fibres, as well as plastics, back into their constituent polymers.


Energy generating and storing fibres have been developed by companies working within the European Union Powerweave project.

Textile waste

Laroche, headquartered in Cours La Ville, France, has designed and manufactured technology for recycling textile waste since the 1930s.

The company’s core system for the treatment of waste clothing involves opening and cleaning and separating the fibres from the zips and buttons. This ‘rag tearing’ process involves two stages of opening and cleaning, the first for initial blending and the second prior to cleaning and pulling treatments, before baling.

A similar system is designed to recycle carpet waste by separating the latex backing and reclaiming the polyester or polypropylene fibres. Other lines have been developed for dealing with disposable hygiene products such as diapers – by separating the fluff pulp and superabsorbent polymers from the polyester and polypropylene fibres, adhesive, elastics and tapes.

Laroche introduced its first Flexiloft airlay unit for turning recycled fibres, as well as a wide range of natural fibres, into new materials in 1995, and over the past 20 years has installed over 100 Flexiloft lines at plants worldwide.

The Flexiloft airlaid system is capable of manufacturing webs in a weight range of between 300 and 10,000 gsm and material thicknesses up to 600mm before bonding. It can accommodate a wide range of natural and recycled fibres in lengths of between 2 and 70mm, as well as short pieces of foam or other materials blended in with the fibres.

With a working width of up to four metres and a speed of up to 15 metres a minute, the line is capable of producing a ton of fabric per working width of machine each hour.


Energy generating and storing fibres have been developed by companies working within the European Union Powerweave project.


Austria’s Starlinger manufactures a wide range of systems with which the high re-use of polymer regranulate can be achieved and encourages nonwovens manufacturers and fibre and film producers to view their waste as a secondary resource.

It had installed some 420 complete recycling lines globally by the end of 2014, including ten of its recoSTAR universal systems for the recycling of polypropylene spunbond fabrics. These are processing production scrap, including edge trim, off-spec reels and cut-outs.

The latest recoSTAR dynamic recycling unit is characterised by a very energy-efficient production process and a high level of automation for reliable and constant production, higher output and considerable flexibility with input materials.

The exclusive use of motors with the best efficiency ratings significantly reduces energy consumption and CO2 emissions, while energy recovery systems at various process stages, as well as infrared heating, further cut down the energy costs for machine operation.

Starlinger’s latest rECO package is designed to allow increased energy savings during the recycling process based on a new concept for the main drive of the extruder, featuring the most energy efficient motors available, barrel heating with infrared heaters and heat-sealed adaptors.

PET bottles

Meanwhile, around 10 million tons of PET bottles will be collected globally in 2015, according to the forecasts presented by Helen McGeough at PCI Consulting’s conference last week, with 55% of the total collected in Asia.
Of this waste, around 68% is converted back into fibres. PET convertors, however, are currently under much pressure due to the low cost of virgin PET fibres at present.

It all comes back down, of course, to that low oil price.

No sunset industry

So this is my final blog from ITMA 2015 and I’ve only been able to brush the surface of all the exciting developments in textile technology, as well as the concepts being advanced by its customers, research institutes and suppliers.

The drive for more sustainable processes has certainly been a key theme and will continue to dominate in the coming years. I think in part, the 20% increase in visitors this year – 123,000 from 147 countries – not only reflects the global and thriving nature of the industry, but also that the entire supply chain is alert for new solutions based on the three pillars of sustainability, profit, people and planet.

While some may refer to textiles as a ‘sunset industry’ this eight-day show has demonstrated a forward-looking agenda and certainly lived up to its theme, ‘Master the Art of Sustainability’.