In the 1940s, Johnson & Johnson paved the way for disposable nonwoven materials. The medical field has driven the nonwoven industry since, but Behnam Pourdeyhimi of The Nonwovens Institute told symposium attendees that “the model is changing” and “we need to look at emerging markets.” Applications include insulation, acoustics, agriculture/horticulture, window treatments, automotive interiors, carpet backing, abrasives and geotextiles. The filtration industry alone is estimated to reach $75 billion to $100 billion by 2020.
“Major innovations in products will be based on new, sustainable materials,” Pourdeyhimi said. Polypropylene already has proven its value in a wide range of uses. It’s easy to process, fairly inexpensive and sustainable. According to Pourdeyhimi, polypropylene has a carbon footprint of 1.9, compared to 2.9 for polyester and 6 for nylon.
Nonwovens—polypropylene included—can be made from post-consumer recycled PET, as well as recycled wood pulp. They can be made from rapidly renewable fibers and with formaldehyde-free binders. Douglas McKee Benton of Ahlstrom Nonwovens discussed methods for printing on nonwovens: rotogravure, screen printing, digital/ink jet, and blade/air knife/flood coating. By combining various surface treatments and coatings, nonwovens can offer UV and fire resistance, acoustic absorbance, insulation, opacity, softness or stiffness, smooth and textured surfaces, strength and drapability/dimensional stability. They’re increasingly used for banners, wall coverings, tents and awnings.