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Fibers & Textiles

Fibers & Textiles Bioplastics in the Nonwoven Industry Possibility or pipe dream shutterstock / Steve Heap By Dave Rousse President INDA Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry Cary, North Carolina, USA The Nonwovens industry is a large and growing user of oil-based polymers. So it is a natural place to examine if bioplastics could replace these oil-based resins. Is it a possibility or is it a pipe dream? Before this first question will be addressed, this article tries to help to have a better understanding of what nonwovens are. Nonwovens are engineered fabrics that are used in numerous end products we interact with every day. A Nonwoven Fabric is defined as a sheet of fibers or continuous filament bonded together chemically, mechanically or thermally. Nonwovens are not paper, woven fabrics or knitted fabrics. They are largely made from the oil based plastics polypropylene, polyester (PET) and to a lesser extent polyethylene. Almost all of the parts of a baby diaper are made from nonwoven fabrics. Nonwovens are used in wipe products such as moist toilet wipes, baby wipes and other personal care wipes. In addition to personal care, the ever expanding category of wipes also includes household wipes and industrial/institutional application wipers. All feminine care products and incontinence products contain nonwoven fabrics as well. The media in air and liquid filter products from tea bags to industrial dust collection systems are usually nonwoven fabrics, not to mention in the 25 or so filter types in an automobile. Many of the items in doctor or hospital visits are made of nonwovens fabrics, such as surgical gowns, operating room drapes, sterilization wraps and wound care products, in addition to other disposable protective apparel for emergency response, chemical handling, hazardous waste protection and agriculture. Though nonwovens are prevalent in disposable products like those mentioned here, nonwovens can also be found in more durable or long life products. Examples of such products are geotextiles, upholstered furnishings, roofing reinforcements, house wrap, carpet components/backing, and automotive upholstery, liners and insulation. In short, nonwovens have thousands of uses and are growing every day with entirely new uses being developed. The Nonwoven industry is a global, growing industry. In 2012, global nonwoven fabric sales reached .2 billion and grew at a 6% annual rate from 2007-2012. Global sales are estimated to reach .2 billion by 2017; an annual growth rate of 6.8%. So what is the opportunity to replace commonly used oil-based resins in nonwovens with biobased polymers? The table shows that the potential for bioplastics is promising for different areas, ranked on a five star basis, with five being the highest. These are: Absorbent Hygiene Product Components; Consumer Wipes; Medical/Surgical Products; Reusable Shopping Bags; Automotive Components/Engineered Structures and Agricultural/ Landscaping Fabrics. 20 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/13] Vol. 8

Fibers & Textiles Potential for bioplastics in different application areas (Source INDA) Absorbent Hygiene Consumer Wipes Medical/ Surgery Reusable Shopping bags Automotive Agriculturel/ Landscape Sales 2012 $ 999 million 14% N. Am. Market $ 846 million 12% N. Am. Market $ 783 million 11% N. Am. Market Absorbent Hygiene Tonnes 2012 404,000 21% N. Am. Market 328,000 16% N. Am. Market 166,000 9% N. Am. Market Growth Rating 2012-2017 3.6% p.a. *** 6.0 % p.a. **** 3.2 % p.a. ** n.a. n.a. n.a. ** $ 291 million 4% N. Am. Market $ 90 million 1% N. Am. Market 57,000 3% N. Am. Market 31,000 2% N. Am. Market 7.3 % p.a. ** 4.3 % p.a. * The Absorbent Hygiene category includes baby diapers, feminine care and incontinence products. It is the largest user of nonwoven fabrics accounting for approximately billion in sales, and 404,000 tonnes in North America 2012. Producers in this segment are large in size but few in number. Drivers in this segment come from consumers and the large multi-nationals such as Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark. It is a high volume/low margin business, with little room to absorb higher costs or risks. One may encounter some technical concerns with biobased resins in these product applications, so be prepared to work these out. Lastly, because these are hygiene products, there is a lengthy and rigorous product qualification process that must be met. For example, there are 32 components in a diaper; with about 30 being oil-based and each individual component must pass qualification. Because this segment is so large, there is opportunity for biobased polymers. But adoption will be slowed by cost pressure, performance and qualification issues. Private label manufacturers are more likely to embrace bioresins and carve out a niche where higher costs can be recaptured through pricing. A good example will be diapers with PLA (Polylactic Acid) inner and outer layers. For these reasons, Absorbent Hygiene is getting three out of five stars. shutterstock / milias1987 Consumer Wipes Sales of nonwoven fabrics to the Consumer Wipes segment reached an estimated 6 million in North America in 2012 and consumed over 328,000 tonnes. The North American wipes segment is estimated to grow at a 6% annual rate through 2017. Within the consumer wipes segment, there exists a diverse array of products, demographics and price points. This along with the desires of the convenience and environmentally aware consumer makes wipes an attractive opportunity for bioplastics. Compared to a diaper, wipes are much simpler in construction. But here also, there are challenges to meet which are critical to success. First, the bio-resin will need to be spun into filaments, and then the filaments chopped into staple fiber. Then there is the interaction with the lotions and other additives found in wet wipes. But, even with these challenges, consumer wipes, particularly personal care wipes, are seen as the largest and most promising opportunity for bio-resins in nonwovens: four out of five stars. istockphoto / RCgrafix bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/13] Vol. 8 21

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