Elastic textile fibers made from CO2

Two research projects have succeeded in making elastic textile fibers based on CO2, whereby partly replacing crude oil as a raw material.

Scientist Pavan Manvi from RWTH Aachen University (right) and Covestro researcher Dr. Jochen Norwig holding a synthetic fiber prototype made from CO2.

The elastic fibers are made with a chemical component that consists in part of CO2 instead of oil. This precursor called cardyon® is already used for foam in mattresses and sports floorings, and now it is being applied to the textile industry.

The Institute of Textile Technology at RWTH Aachen University and Covestro, a polymer company, are developing the production process on an industrial scale and aim to make the innovative fibers ready for the market. They can be used for stockings and medical textiles, for example, and might replace conventional elastic fibers based on crude oil.

“That’s a further, highly promising approach to enable ever broader use of carbon dioxide as an alternative raw material in the chemical industry and expand the raw materials base,” says Dr. Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro. “Our goal is to use CO2 in more and more applications in a circular economy process and save crude oil.”

Sustainable production process

The fibers are made from CO2-based thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) using a technique called melt spinning, in which the TPU is melted, pressed into very fine threads and finally processed into a yarn of endless fibers. Unlike dry spinning, which is used to produce conventional elastic synthetic fibers such as Elastane or Spandex, melt spinning eliminates the need for environmentally harmful solvents. A new chemical method enables carbon dioxide to be incorporated in the base material, which also has a better CO2 footprint than traditional elastic fibers.

“The CO2-based material could be a sustainable alternative to conventional elastic fibers in the near future,” states Professor Thomas Gries, Director of the Institute of Textile Technology at RWTH Aachen University. “Thanks to our expertise in industrial development and processing, we can jointly drive establishment of a new raw materials base for the textile industry.”

Development partners display interest

What makes the CO2-based TPU fibers so special is their properties: They are elastic and tear-proof and so can be used in textile fabrics. Initial companies from the textile and medical engineering sectors have already tested the CO2- based fibers and processed them into yarns, socks, compression tubes and tapes.

The aim of launching CO2-based textiles on the market is to promote a material cycle in the textile and clothing industry based on sustainable resources.

Photo credit: Covestro

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