Definition of biosynthetic: A polymer created from either a part percentage or 100% natural renewable resource (living organism), for the manufacture into synthetic fibers.
Definition created by Textile Exchange’s Biosynthetics Working Group with the consensus of it members. April 2012.
Traditionally, biopolymers come from renewable cellulose and starch, however, today, they can be produced from a broader range of raw materials, such as lipids (oils), bacteria, fungi, and algae, enabling us to do more from renewable resources/or with less reliance on finite resources.
The resources used for biopolymers are ever evolving to both improve performance and reduce impact. The industry is ultimately working towards lessening the impact of biopolymers on land use and food commodities. This has resulted in a distinction between 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation bio feedstocks.
- First Generation: Crops, such as corn or sugar beet, that can produce sugars for conversion to bio chemicals and polymers, and that are available at large commercial scale today.
- Second Generation: Biomass-based waste products generally from the food and farming industries (such as corn stover or milk bi-products), which have valuable cellulose and starch that can be extracted to produce sugars for bio-chemical and polymer production. These technologies are under development and these feedstocks are typically not yet available at commercial scale.
- Third Generation: Resources, such as fungi, algae and bacteria, that do not compete with food production and do not require a lot of energy or additional food for growth. These technologies are also under development and these feedstocks are not yet available at commercial scale.
You can currently find commercial biopolymers within the families of Polyester (PET partially bio, working towards 100% bio), PTT (Partially bio), PLA (100% bio) and Polyamide (PA11 100% bio).
Textile Exchange has a global outreach that spans the full supply chain and, as a neutral non-profit organization, is set up to facilitate an industry-wide incentive to direct biosynthetic development to more mainstream commercial reality.
Textile Exchange is an industry leader in fiber/textile certification. As a fiber at a relatively early stage of development, certification parameters need to be developed specific for textile and apparel use, and Textile Exchange has the infrastructure already in place to spear head this. Bio certification can be made to fit within Textile Exchange’s already well-established certification portfolio.
“At current consumption trends, technology, and proven reserve levels, there could be just half a century’s worth of oil and gas supply available.”1 As oil reserves decline and the stability of oil availability comes under threat, bio resources provide an alternative in the manufacturing of textiles and apparel, whilst opening up opportunities for new performance capabilities with less impact on resource use.
Global demand for materials is expected to more than double by 2050.2 There is space and opportunity within our current raw material portfolio to diversify whilst improving performance.
”A key advantage of renewable feedstocks is their short reproduction cycle, which ranges between several days for algae and several years for trees, compared to the much longer reproduction cycle of fossil feedstocks.”3
“A proportion of CO2 emissions released during the manufacture and consumption of biobased products can be counterbalanced by the CO2 captured during the growth of the biomass used for their production.”4
1. Price Waterhouse Coopers. Climate Change and resource scarcity. http://www.pwc.co.uk/issues/megatrends/climate-change-and- resource-scarcity.html
2. PCI Polyester Conference September 2015 / With Both Eyes Open. Jonathan Cullen & Peter Levi. University of Cambridge. http://www. withbotheyesopen.com
3. BSI. PAS 600 Bio based products. (2013) Guide to standards and claims.
4. BSI. PAS 600 Bio based products. (2013) Guide to standards and claims.
There are some significant and valid concerns about biosynthetics. For example:
- The current use of genetically modified corn as a feedstock for PLA is a major concern to many, as are the environmental impacts of producing corn.
- Who owns the biorefining facilities and the scale of these facilities are significant issues for rural communities that are looking to biobased production as a foundation for new and sustainable economic development.
- The inclusion of potentially harmful materials in manufacturing raises other concerns.
- Recycling and disposal of these products could be potential problems for certain bio materials, especially impacts on the current recycling and disposal infrastructure. For example, while bio PET can be recycled in existing PET recycling infrastructure, bottles made with polylactic acid (PLA) can contaminate the recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Most recycling technologies are unable to distinguish between the two types of plastic. Many recyclers therefore oppose the use of PLA until the recycling technology is capable of weeding out products made with PLA.
- These concerns need to be addressed so that the benefits of biopolymers are maximized without impeding their commercial viability. This will likely require a combination of policy incentives and regulations, private-public engagement and support, and market development that supports economic, environmental, and social objectives.
Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative. http://www.sustainablebiomaterials.org/index.php
The use of genetically modified (GM) crops is not a technical requirement for the production of any biobased materials that are commercially available today. If GM crops are used, the reasons usually lie in the regional feedstock supply situation or are based on economic decisions.
European Bioplastics. Frequently Asked Questions of Bioplastics
Stemming from the packaging industry, where biodegradability is of importance, there is a misconception that all biopolymers are automatically biodegradable; they are not necessarily commercially biodegradable.
- Not all biopolymers degrade safely, with some actually off-gassing detrimentally if not treated appropriately.
- Unless the product being composted can return nutrients to the soil at a certified level, the higher value option would be to up-cycle products at the end of their intended lifetime.
- Many clothing products are made up of a blend of materials (i.e. not 100% out of one material) so composting is only an option once materials have been separated.
There is currently no existing standard specific to biosynthetic textiles. However both the USA and the European Union have developed standards and certification schemes for biobased products in the marketplace.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed the “BioPreferred” program and certification scheme, including a product category for “fibers and fabrics”.
Federal law, the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and Presidential Executive Orders direct that all federal agencies purchase biobased products in categories identified by the USDA. To date, USDA has identified 97 categories (e.g. cleaners, carpet, lubricants, paints) of biobased products for which agencies and their contractors have mandatory purchasing requirements.
Through the program Voluntary Labeling Initiative, companies may apply for certification to display the USDA Certified Biobased Product label on a product that states its third-party tested and verified biobased content. The USDA has established minimum biobased content standards for many product categories. A product must meet or exceed the minimum biobased content percentage in its given category in order to qualify for certification.
The European Biobased Content Certification Scheme is used to specify and validate the amount of biomass in a biobased product, based on the European standard EN 16785-1:2015. This European standard provides a method of determining the biobased content of solid, liquid and gaseous products using the radiocarbon analysis and elemental analyses.
Organizations can use the Biobased Content Certification Scheme to demonstrate the (minimum share of) biobased content in their products and label them with this claim. The Scheme describes the ‘rules’ for certification including the tasks and responsibilities of the applicant, testing laboratory and certification body as well as the rules for the use of the biobased content label and logo.
USA – USDA Certified Biobased Product https://www.biopreferred.gov/BioPreferred/faces/Welcome.xhtml
EU – Biobased Content http://www.biobasedcontent.eu/
The European Commission describes a biobased economy as an economy that integrates the full range of natural and renewable biological resources – land and sea resources and biological materials (plant, animal and microbial) – and the processing and consumption of these bio-resources.1
Partners For Innovation: What is a Biobased Economy http://www.partnersforinnovation.com/en/vision/biobased-economy/
Societal benefits from a shift to biobased plastics could be enormous. Biobased materials have the potential to produce fewer greenhouse gases, require less energy, and produce fewer toxic pollutants over their lifecycle than products made from fossil fuels. They may also be recyclable or composted (depending on the biomaterial and how it is produced), reducing waste streams to already crowded landfills or to incinerators. As the cost of petroleum increases, making products with biobased materials is increasingly attractive. Increased demand for agricultural and forest-based feedstocks also offers new resource-based economic development opportunities for farmers and struggling rural communities and manufacturing sectors.
Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative. http://www.sustainablebiomaterials.org/index.php
Spider silk is one of nature’s strongest materials, and scientists have been attempting to mimic its properties for a range of applications, with varying degrees of success. Research is well underway at institutions such as the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and the University of Cambridge in the UK. Commercial, and near-commercial technologies are being developed by companies such as Spiber Inc. in Japan and Bolt Threads in the USA.
Spider silk is a material that has many advantages: It’s well tolerated when implanted in tissues for sutures, it’s light-weight but stronger than steel, and it’s biodegradable. It could also have applications in:
- Bullet-proof clothing.
- Wear-resistant lightweight clothing.
- Ropes, nets, seat belts, parachutes.
- Rust-free panels on motor vehicles or boats.
- Biodegradable bottles.
- Bandages, surgical thread.
- Artificial tendons or ligaments, supports for weak blood vessels.
Spider silk is made of proteins that are stored as a water-based solution in a spiders silk glands, before being spun into a fiber. Until now, it wasn’t possible to make artificial spider silk because of difficulties in obtaining similar watery spider silk proteins. But researchers managed to develop a method using artificial proteins that can be produced in large quantities in bacteria. The researchers then used a biomimetic process – one that mimics nature – to imitate a spider spinning silk. The spinning device uses a syringe to pump the solution through a microscopic glass capillary tube. This produces kilometer-long fibers controlled by altering pH in the solution.