This page was printed from

Focus on sustainability

Advanced Textiles Conference discusses materials and methods for a stronger and more sustainable future.

Features | October 24, 2022 | By: Janet Preus

An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter lands to pick up Air Force special warfare airmen, assigned to the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron during small unit training in Alaska. A new program called HEAT is being developed to better protect Air Force personnel in extreme cold. The program recently received major funding for scaling up manufacturing. Photo: U.S. Air Force/ Alejandro Peña. 

In the midst of the industry’s push to be more sustainable, one expert says, “There are no sustainable materials.” What Dr. Andrew Dent means is the goal for achieving circularity is to make the best choice in material (or materials) for that application. There are many variables in understanding circularity, and the path towards a more sustainable operation is replete with potential misunderstandings. 

Dent presented the plenary session that opened the Advanced Textiles Conference recently in Charlotte, N.C., Dent is executive vice president, materials research, for Material ConneXion, a global materials consultancy. (Dent will provide additional information on the issues he raised in his talk in an upcoming article that will run on this site in November.)

A sustainability plan

The question of achieving circularity was the theme of, or inherent in, several presentations. Ben Mead, managing director, Hohenstein Institute America, explained Hohenstein’s program for helping companies establish a process towards achieving circularity. Mead started with the sobering fact that our industry is not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, and water risks are increasing, with a 21 percent increase projected from the period 2015 to 2025. 

To help company’s work towards a more sustainable future, Hohenstein has developed an “impact calculator,” a tool within its STeP certification program, that’s designed to measure both carbon footprint and water footprint. Mead notes that STeP (Sustainable Textile (& Leather) Production) is “wholistic, modular and includes continuous improvement.” 

Currently, STeP customers can access the tool through their customer access on the website. In the future, the company may consider offering the program to customers who are not STeP certified. The timeline for each company’s plan “is really variable,” Mead says. A company may take 3-6 months to get the initial STeP certification done, but he stresses that continuous improvement is built in. Specific numbers are not set, but participating companies are expected to show improvement in the scoring system. 

The nonwovens question

In a “campfire” talk on the show floor, Tom Daugherty, deputy director of the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) at North Carolina State University (NC State), began with a startling statistic: 80 percent of consumer goods—excluding packaging—are disposed of after a single use. It is among the range of sustainability issues that require comprehensive action. 

“It has to be a multidimensional approach,” he says. “It can’t be just one thing.” And that is the essence of circularity, “where processes are designed to minimize waste, products and waste materials are reused if possible, and materials that cannot be reused are remanufactured or recycled,” according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. 

The National Academies, Daugherty explained, have issued a challenge to design a future without pollution or waste, which requires a new paradigm. Its recommendations include: 

  • Redesigning products and their production processes for resource efficiency, longevity, reuse, repair, and recycling while minimizing pollution.
  • Quantifying and documenting life-cycle consequences associated with commonly used products, and the costs and benefits of alternative approaches to reduce pollution and waste. 
  • Quantifying waste-stream characteristics and identifying ways to reuse or recover materials.
  • Identifying products that could be manufactured with recycled and reused materials.
  • Developing new resource–recovery technologies and processes for cost-effective recovery of materials and energy from the waste stream.

In the world of nonwovens—and particularly considering disposables—that’s no small matter, but the NWI is taking action with the release of its “Vision for Research Actions” for sustainable polymers. These include the recycling and upcycling of polymers, as well as polymer modifications; creating renewable materials that may be cellulosics or biopolymers and blends; process engineering improvements in both fiber and film extrusions, as well as injection molding; and assessing other environmental impacts, which could include materials sourcing, end-of-life management and other issues.

Helping the body heal itself

Matt Kolmes with his colleague, Dr. Rakkiyappan Chandran, revealed a new smart technology in a talk titled “Thermoregulating therapeutic smart yarns.” Kolmes is CEO, Supreme Corp., which launched Volt smart yarn in 2018. 

“I want to challenge you to think outside the box,” Kolmes said. “There’s functionality in yarn that we never thought possible. “Think of the yarns as a platform—we can make yarns to do many different things.”

One of the possibilities is drug delivery through the skin. “Yarn is a perfect delivery mechanism for medicine,” he said. But it is just one of the functionalities being explored by the company. 

In early trials—including one on Kolmes himself—the company’s new thermoregulated therapeutic fabric demonstrated it could support the body’s own processes to speed up healing. The technology uses a photodynamic therapy (PDT) process, which has been used for many years—usually to treat certain kinds of cancer and skin conditions. But Chandran wondered about its reliance on an extraneous light source. He theorized that, since the body produces a lot of heat energy, that could be turned into light energy, providing the light source needed for treatments. 

“What we’re describing is using PDT on yarn,” Kolmes said. “We can absorb your body energy, which is heat and change that heat to visible light,” using light in different places on the color spectrum. “Sounds like a magic trick, right? Using that, we can heal your body.”

When the thermal regulating textile is applied to the body, it reflects this energy back into the body to promote rapid wound healing, recovery from infection, and even faster healing of broken bones—and it can provide dermal delivery of medicine. (Look for an article on this site from Kolmes and Chandran in the future that can provide a more detailed description of Volt Yarn’s new technology.)

Facing the Arctic

Dr. Braden Li, a materials research engineer with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), is working on developing clothing for the Air Force to be used protecting personnel in extreme cold environments. The goal is to create a clothing system that will protect in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees F to minus 60 degrees F. His presentation, “Human Enhancing Arctic Textiles” (HEAT), outlined the requirements for an improved garment system for Air Force personnel, and he explained HEAT’s approach in meeting the Air Force’s list of Key System Attributes or KSAs. These KSAs are broken down into very specific needs for each area of the body. 

Additionally, the clothing must be tailorable and scalable in order to be reconfigured for missions in all extreme environments; allow for dexterity and maneuverability in completing missions, and be petroleum, oil and lubricant resistant and repellant. The garments are also expected to achieve a specified level of durability and moisture management. Additional performance attributes include that being able to fit 98 percent of USAF male and female personnel. 

Li and others in the AFRL Liquid Electronics Group are experimenting with Textile-Integrated Liquid Metal Electrodes (TILEs) and have developed a blade coatable ink to create Heat Enhancing Arctic Textiles (HEAT) for active heating wearables designed to specifically meet the KSAs listed. Li says the problem with a polymerized liquid metal is that it oxidizes in air, but with their process, as it stretches, it becomes more and more conductive. “It’s really cool material,” he says. 

The program has recently done compatibility testing. It will be working on prototype development and recently received major funding for scaling up. 

The Advanced Textiles Conference was part of the Advanced Textiles Association’s annual Expo, which took place Oct. 11-14 in Charlotte, N.C. Look for additional coverage of this event in upcoming issues of Textile Technology Source

Janet Preus is senior editor of Textile Technology Source. She can be reached at

Share this Story