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Fibers & Textiles

Fibers & Textiles shutterstock / wavebreakmedia Medical/Surgical The Medical/Surgical segment is another opportunity for bio-resins in nonwovens. Sales of nonwoven fabrics to this segment in North America reached an estimated 3 million in 2012 and consumed 166,000 tonnes. Unlike the other segments, where bioplastics replace oil-based plastics; there is opportunity to use bioplastics in an entirely new product category. Biopolymer based nonwovens can be made into tissue scaffolds that dissolve in the body. Other types of bandages that dissolve in the body also represent opportunity. This area has a great deal of interest and offers an attractive high value, low volume possibility as these tissue scaffolds and bandages cannot be made using oilbased products. The largest use of nonwovens in medical today is for surgical drapes and gowns. There seems no great opportunity for bio-resins here due primarily to the requirements for FDA approval and purchasing group’s reluctance to accept higher costs. However, hospitals are being pushed to go green where possible so the Medical/ Surgical segment gets two out of five stars. Reusable Shopping Bags One only has to shop at their local grocery store to see that the popularity of reusable shopping bags has grown in the last few years in a lot of countries including North America. Some countries, states and cities are working on legislation to tax or ban the use of plastic shopping bags, with Los Angeles becoming the largest U.S. city to ban them. Some stores have voluntarily discontinued the use of them as part of their brand mission. Billions of plastic bags are used annually with only about 0.06% being recycled in the USA. The only real challenge to adoption of bioplastic based nonwovens for reusable shopping bags is cost. But there is a strong ecological drive behind the wider use of reusable bags. These bags’ unitary construction makes them easier to manufacture. There is also opportunity to produce value tiers with entry and step- up style bags to accommodate different cost points and branding objectives. For these reasons the segment gets two out of five stars. Automotive Nonwovens are used on over 40 parts of an average car today. Nonwoven fabric sales to the North American automotive market reached an estimated 1 million in 2012 and consumed approximately 57,000 tonnes. The auto industry is healthy and growing again and it is a global industry. Nonwoven fabrics’ ability to be engineered to meet a specific application in the car, such as extreme light istockphoto / CaroleGomez 22 bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/13] Vol. 8

weight but highly durable, is driving higher usage by auto designers and planners. There is evidence that a growing segment of auto buyers are willing to pay more for a greener car. The challenge will be bioplastics cost vs. performance plus bioplastic capacity. If bio-resins take off and are adopted by more car companies can the supply chain meet the demand? In the Auto segment, there seems to be potential for bio-resins in acoustic insulation, carpets and headliners. Rating: two out of five stars. Agricultural/Landscaping The final area of potential to be looked at is the Agricultural/Landscaping segment. In 2012, nonwoven fabric sales into this segment in North America reached an estimated million, consuming approximately 31,000 tonnes. Landscape/ Agricultural fabrics are used to shade young plantings, stop erosion, and prevent weed growth. Ideally, farmers would like to simply till these into the soil when the growing season is over. So here it is not the biobased source of a material that is of interest, but the biodegradability, ideally in combination with a renewable source. With the growing interest in organic and sustainable agriculture, this trend is increasing. But cost is an over-riding driver in this segment and for this reason the opportunity for biobased AND biodegradable nonwovens will be very limited. Thus this segment gets only one out of five stars. So will bio-resin use in the production of nonwoven fabrics grow and prosper? Yes, it will. It is not a pipe dream but a market opportunity. The possibilities are good and some application of biopolymers is already occurring. Because many segments are cost sensitive, bio-resin pricing will remain an issue; particularly when replacing an oil-based material. So, keep in mind the concept of biopolymer use in totally new product areas, such as in medical tissue scaffolding. And lastly, be careful what you wish for. There are only 2.5 million tonnes of bio-resin capacity today but about 230 million tonnes of petroleum polymer consumption with about 10 million flowing into nonwovens. So the science may be there to replace a substantial percentage of petroleum based polymers, but the capacity is not (yet). bioplastics MAGAZINE [05/13] Vol. 8 23

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