Utexbel’s Contribution to Sustainable Textile Production in the ALIGNED Project

In this interview with Mr. Jean-Luc Derycke, representing Utexbel, we explore Utexbel’s specific role within the ALIGNED project. Utexbel is at the forefront of this initiative, aiming to realize circular textile products, including yarns and fabrics, with an environmental impact comparable to their virgin material counterparts.

What specific role does Utexbel play within the ALIGNED project?

A: The role of Utexbel in the Aligned project is the realization of a circular textile product (yarns and fabrics), of which the environmental impact can be compared to equivalent products made of virgin material, based on the knowledge acquired during the Aligned project. Utexbel has for the moment a range of circular yarns and fabrics based on recycled cotton and Polyester/Cotton fibres. The fibres come from various sources: industrial waste, pre-consumer waste, and post-consumer textile waste.

Could you elaborate on the strategy for identifying and implementing solutions in the textile sector as part of the ALIGNED project? What are the primary obstacles or challenges encountered in this process?

A: The most important challenge is to find a suitable end-use for the circular product. For the moment, circular textile products are more expensive than textile products made of virgin fibres. The main reason is that many conventional textile products are produced in low-wage countries and imported in the EU. On the other hand, circular products are produced locally, i.e. in countries with higher wages, as we want a short supply line.

A second challenge for circular products is the lifetime of the textile material. If your customer expects that a garment can be washed for at least 100 times, it makes no sense to create a circular version that only lasts for 20 washing cycles. This is not a sustainable solution. It is important to know the expectations of the end customer to adapt your material choices in relation to the expected lifetime of the end product.

A third challenge for circular products is the homogeneity of the input material. If you want to get mechanically shredded fibers with a spinnable quality level, the input batch should be homogeneous in colour, composition, construction and origin. By construction, we mean knitwear or woven fabrics. By origin, we mean post or pre-consumer or industrial waste. Only in that case, a shredder can set up his machines in an optimal way to get the best possible fiber distribution and removal of external parts enabling good spinnability in the spinning mill.

To enable industrial processing, homogeneous batches should be at least 10 tons of usable textile material.

Besides the industrial feasibility, traceability is also a very important issue, as you need to prove the circular content of a circular article. Identification of batches and input materials is mandatory.

There is also an administrative burden concerning circular products, as, for the moment, there is no clear European regulation concerning the definition of textile waste and textile material that can be reused in the supply chain. In Belgium e.g. we have to rely on regional regulations, which are very stringent. Only a few cases of circular textile products are available, and the administrations don’t know how to deal with the issue: when does old textile material, considered as waste, become a reusable raw material? I hope the future will bring us a sustainable and practical solution. Finally, I can say that the development of circular products is a discovery at each stage and for each project. A lot of issues, on the technical, economic and administrative level have to be settled. We are only at the start of a great adventure!

Jean-Luc Derycke



The role of OLEON at the ALIGNED Project

Oleon, an oleochemicals company, plays a crucial role in representing the biochemicals sector within the ALIGNED project. In this interview featuring Adrien Karolak, we will explore Oleon’s specific role, with a primary emphasis on their selected case study concerning the production of acid dimers derived from plant-based fatty acids.

What is the role of OLEON in the ALIGNED project?

Oleon is an Oleochemicals company, and we are involved in the ALIGNED project as an industrial partner representing the biochemicals sector. Within this framework, our role is to provide a case study representative of our activities. We have chosen to work on acid dimers produced from plant-based fatty acids. This case study plays an essential role in the development of the ALIGNED project.  Its aim is to provide information that will enable our academic partners to develop their models and tools. Ultimately, this will enable high-quality evaluation studies to be carried out in the bio-based sectors, with industrial relevance and interoperability.

How do you plan to conduct the identification and demonstration of solutions in the chemical sector? What are the main challenges?

The first step is to carry out a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the case study we have chosen to work on. LCA is a very good analysis tool that will allow us to identify the major environmental impacts of our product and its location in its life cycle. Our experience in LCA developed prior to the Aligned project, has already enabled us to identify them. The next step will be to focus on the solutions to be put in place to reduce the environmental impact of this product. To do this, we are fortunate to be surrounded by skilled teams who are contributing their knowledge and expertise to our project. The role of our academic partners is also essential, with BTG and NTNU bringing a fresh outside perspective to our manufacturing and raw materials processes. And they are in a better position to make innovative proposals on the subject. Of course, developing a project of this scale comes with its share of challenges, as its objectives go beyond our usual working framework. For example, we want to carry out a complete environmental assessment of our product, its application, and its end-of-life (cradle to grave). This poses several difficulties, as Oleon is an intermediate player in the value chain. We collect a lot of information on the upstream part of our value chain, but little on the downstream part. So, we can carry out cradle-to-grave LCAs. We supply raw materials to our customers, who then transform them before they reach the end consumer. To carry out a cradle-to-grave LCA, we therefore need to include other stakeholders.  In the bio-based chemicals sector, most of the environmental impact of products is due to the production of raw materials. If we want to effectively increase the sustainability of our products, it is essential that we also work on upstream agriculture. This means including our suppliers and studying the eco-design proposals for their production.