Valmet plays a role in sustainable textile production

June 22, 2021

Textile industry is the 3rd biggest manufacturing industry in the world, behind only automotive and electronics manufacturing. It is a rapidly growing industry, too. At the same time, consumers and waste legislation put pressure on fashion brands for sustainable solutions. More than 60% of textiles is made of fossil-based raw materials and microplastics. Cotton is a natural fiber, but cotton cultivation requires a lot of water, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Despite the vast amount of textile waste in the world, recycling of clothes is still in its infancy. Indeed, less than one percent of clothing is in closed-loop recycling, while 57% goes to landfill and 25% to incineration. In the member states of the European Union, the collection of textile waste for recycling has to be organized in year 2025 at the latest. The high share of plastics related fabrics is a challenge for recycling, and the same goes for mixed fibers.

How does all this relate to Valmet? Well, Valmet is specialized in converting renewable materials to sustainable results. The process technology and know-how we have from the pulp and paper industry is in fact applicable to textile fiber processes as well. Valmet’s technologies for kraft and dissolving pulp production as well as for stock preparation fit well even as such to textile recycling processes. In addition to processes, Valmet can provide automation and services as well.

Dissolving pulp is a raw material for viscose and lyocell. Valmet works with all big dissolving pulp producers, the leading of whom is Sappi. There are several plans to increase dissolving pulp capacity, both greenfields and conversions. Of Valmet’s current projects, the biggest dissolving pulp project is in Brazil, where Valmet is delivering key process islands for Lenzing’s and Duratex’s joint venture. The start-up of the new 500,000 ton/year dissolving pulp mill is planned for the first half of 2022. Valmet’s delivery includes a fiber line, a pulp drying and baling line, an evaporation plant, a white liquor plant and a mill-wide automation system. The value of the order was not disclosed, but a delivery of this size and scope is typically around EUR 200-250 million.

In January 2021, we announced that Renewcell has selected Valmet as the main equipment supplier for their textile recycling plant in in Sundsvall, Sweden. The plant will be first of its kind in the world for commercial scale textile recycling. It is scheduled to begin operations in the first half of 2022 and will have a capacity of 60,000 metric tonnes per year, with a possibility scale up in the future. The order value for Valmet is around EUR 25 million.

The technology Valmet provides for the Renewcell project is process equipment for stock preparation, bleaching and drying, commonly used in large scale state-of-the-art dissolving pulp mills. Thus, Valmet already has industry-leading expertise in the required technology and customer references among pulp producers. With Valmet’s solution, Renewcell will transform textile waste, such as cotton and viscose clothes, into a dissolving pulp product called Circulose®, produced 100% from recycled textiles. By replacing virgin textile fibers like cotton with fibers produced from Circulose®, fashion brands can reduce the climate and environmental impact caused by raw material extraction and fashion waste generation. Circulose® was included as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions for 2020. According to Renewcell, the recycling plant concept is ready to be rolled out worldwide.

Also novel sustainable textile fibers are needed, and many companies are developing production processes for new bio-based textiles. There is potential for Valmet’s technology and know-how also in these emerging new bio-based textile processes. In May, we announced that Valmet will supply technology to Spinnova-Suzano joint venture textile fiber factory in Jyväskylä, Finland. Spinnova has developed breakthrough technology for making textile fiber out of wood or waste, such as textile or food waste, without harmful chemicals. The patented SPINNOVA® fiber creates zero waste or side streams, zero microplastics and has minimal CO2 emissions and water use. SPINNOVA® materials are the most biodegradable and circular in the world. Recently Spinnova made an important breakthrough, as it announced a partnership with Adidas.

The Jyväskylä plant will be the first commercial scale SPINNOVA® fiber production facility and it is expected to be completed at the end of 2022. In the joint venture, Spinnova is the exclusive technology provider, while Suzano, the world’s leading eucalyptus pulp producer, ensures the supply of the needed raw material, certified micro-fibrillated cellulose (MFC). Spinnova chose Valmet as a partner due to the proven technology and long experience on scaling up processes. Valmet provides the customer with drying machines with high-technology air dryers. The technology is utilized already today in paper and board making, and it is now adapted to the cellulose based textile fiber production.

Valmet wants to play a role in the transformation of the textile industry. We invest in the development of the technology, and together with our customers, we can use our pilot facilities for developing textile-fiber related processes. It takes time to develop an idea to a commercial scale. With Renewcell, for example, Valmet has developed the recycling technology for several years. Also, it remains to be seen which production processes will become winners in the end. There is good potential, however, that textile fiber manufacturers will become an important customer segment for Valmet in the future.