Yesterday, synthetic fibers – whether elastane, polyester, or polyacrylic - are ubiquitous in clothing. Underwear, sweaters, T-shirts – all are made with synthetic fabrics. Synthetics also play an important role in the sub-sector of the industry to which Vaude belongs - the outdoor industry
After all, the outdoor industry is particularly dependent on textiles fulfilling certain outstanding functions: They have to be elastic, not tear and, if possible, be water-repellent.
To date, petroleum-based plastics were the only materials to fulfil these requirements.
"We want to move away from petroleum," says Vaude’s Benedikt Tröster. "Toward renewable or recycled raw materials."
He added that by winter 2021, half of Vaude's new collection are to be made from such materials. Currently, it is already one-third.
This ambition led the company to Evonik.More than 10 years ago, specialty chemical company Evonik developed VESTAMID Terra - a plastic that can be produced entirely from renewable raw materials. In this case, from the oil of the castor bean plant.
“That‘s unusual for our industry. We approached a chemical company directly, not a fabric manufacturer,“ said Rene? Bethmann, Innovation Manager Materials and Manufacturing at Vaude.
VESTAMID Terra can be used in a variety of industries and applications, from plastic buckles to toothbrush bristles. In addition to that, however, it turned out that the polyamide has outstanding properties for textiles and can also be spun into filaments.
"The result is a fiber that is very comfortable to wear, has good water management properties, can be dyed well at low temperatures, and also contributes to CO2 savings," says Uwe Kannengießer, Director of Optics & Filaments in the High Performance Polymers Business Unit at Evonik.
The first test phase followed: could VESTAMID Terra really be used as desired? “In the end, we found the plastic is not only more sustainable, but also has better properties compared to conventional polyamide fabric,“ says Bethmann. Above all, the yarn‘s lower moisture absorption is attractive for outdoor clothing, where a pair of pants should be ready for forays in damp grass or against short rain showers - and it is also an advantage if they dry faster after getting wet and after washing.
Vaude finally decided on a variant that consists of 62 percent castor oil and the remaining part of conventional raw material: “This new type of material has thus become part of a family that until now has mainly included petroleum-based polyamides for textile fibers, such as the classic polyamide 6 or 6.6,“ says Bethmann. But at the same time, it offers higher abrasion resistance, better tear strength and more elastic elongation.
“We‘re talking here about long-chain polyamides, such as those traditionally used for sports shirts, for example,“ adds Evonik‘s Kannengießer: “It‘s actually very similar to polyamide 6.6.“ On top of that, VESTAMID Terra can be easily dyed even at low temperatures, which makes an additional contribution to the CO2 savings.
This is an issue that Evonik is also paying close attention to - the company has set itself the goal of reducing CO2 emissions as part of its “Strategy 2020+,“ which includes both its own consumption and possible effects at customers. Including the fact that additional carbon is stored by growing the castor plant, Evonik calculates that the CO2 footprint of the biopolyamide is only half that of the production of conventional plastic yarn.