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Creating the future of textiles (part 5)

December 1st, 2010 / By: / Markets, Technical

The push for sustainability drives innovation in advanced textiles.

Part V of a series by speakers at the Advanced Textiles Conference 2010. Part I covers developments in advanced textiles, Part II addresses developments in auxetic materials, and Part III discusses electrical conductive nanocoatings. Part IV covers the potential of nanomaterials in creative applications.

What are the newest, most exciting or intriguing developments in the industry in advanced textiles?

The emphasis on sustainability is the most exciting development in advanced textiles. New, renewable materials, like Tencel™ from Lenzing and Ingeo™ from NatureWorks, are becoming available on the market and in turn enable new products. The opportunity to develop products that provide economic, environmental and societal benefits is opening the door to new markets, especially in the developing world (such as mosquito netting, which provides protection from the elements and disease).

Who is driving new developments—the researchers or the market?

In the trend toward renewable products, the high cost of petroleum-based products is one driver, but the market also plays a key role. Green products are receiving positive reception from consumers, as well as retailers such as Walmart and government clients like the Department of Defense. Many companies are now requiring a full understanding of the life cycle of their raw materials and even their carbon footprints.

What is the market demanding and what is the response?

The market is demanding a full accounting for the sustainability of raw materials and products. It is also driving reduction in packaging and transportation costs, looking at the product from cradle to grave. Disposal is now a concern and companies are stepping up to provide recycling.

Are new technologies finding their applications and markets? If so, where is the most robust growth occurring, or likely to occur in the near future? If not, what’s holding up the implementation of new technologies?

New technologies based on renewable materials and lower energy consumption are finding applications and markets, and in some cases are facilitated by government incentives and assistance. The Department of Commerce and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide information, standards, and certification and facilitate interaction among companies within regions to help them reduce waste and energy usage.

Growth is occurring both in developed and developing countries. China is investing heavily in clean technology. In fact, China has now overtaken the U.S. in investments in low-carbon energy among the G-20, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts published in early November 2010. The report found that despite a 6.6 percent overall global decline in clean energy investments last year, China invested almost twice as much as the U.S. in clean energy during 2009. U.S.-based companies such as GE and IBM are also driving this market growth. The challenge to implementation is the cost of both new infrastructure and of the renewable materials.

What new products or processes are being developed now that will have the most profound impact on the way in which end product manufacturers do business tomorrow

On the product side, new low-cost, high-performance materials made from renewable raw materials will profoundly affect product design and performance. On the process side, integrated systems will allow for incorporation of renewable energy and dramatically reduce energy usage and waste, providing the necessary return on investment for implementation.

One example of this integration is the smart grid, made possible by applying sensing, measurement, and control devices with two-way communications to electricity production, transmission, distribution, and consumption parts of the power grid that communicate information about grid condition to system users, operators, and automated devices. This synergy makes it possible to dynamically respond to changes in grid condition.

A smart grid includes an intelligent monitoring system that keeps track of all electricity flowing in the system. It also incorporates the use of superconductive transmission lines for less power loss, as well as the capability of integrating renewable electricity such as solar and wind. When power is least expensive the user can allow the smart grid to turn on selected home appliances (such as washing machines) or factory processes that can run at arbitrary hours. At peak times it could turn off selected appliances to reduce demand. As always, a combination of new research, technologies and products moves us forward into unchartered territory in the advanced textiles industry.

Richard Chapas, Ph.D., is a business and technical leader, and an educator who works with industrial corporations, universities, and government agencies and laboratories.

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