Products Technology, Sustainability
The bio-sourcing process
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Did you know that the traditional way to make a snow jacket requires petroleum extraction?
Conventional technical polyester fabric (PET) consists of mono-ethylene-glycol (30%) and terephthalic acid (70%), both petro-chemical compounds.
Thankfully other solutions exist. It goes without saying that Picture has been using recycled polyester made from used plastic bottles since the very beginning in 2008.
However, we are always looking for new solutions to directly or indirectly wipe out our dependence on fossil fuels.
Bio-sourcing represents one of these solutions.
What is bio-sourcing?
In the case of a snow jacket, it means creating a fabric partially made with plant material such as sugar cane or castor beans. In general, plants that contain sucrose (beets, sugar cane…) or starch (wheat, corn…) can be transformed into bio-mono ethylene glycol (Bio-MEG) to replace conventional petroleum-based MEG.
Reorienting our strategy towards bio-sourcing represents a major commitment to the environment and to wiping out our extremely polluting dependence on fossil fuels: oil in this case.
Our short-term goal is to expand the use of bio-sourced materials throughout our line of technical apparel. 30% of our technical collection is made of bio-polyester in 2020/2021.
Here is a simple overview of how bio-sourcing works for a snow jacket:
Let’s take sugar cane as an example. More specifically, the sugar extract from the sugar cane is what interests us. Refining the sugar (melting, bleaching, and crystallization) produces a mixture referred to as molasses.
After the fermenting process, the molasses is usually used to produce ethyl alcohol (or ethanol).
Fermenting sugars to make ethanol is one of the oldest biotechnologies used by human beings, especially in the alcohol industry, and has been around since prehistory to make alcoholic beverages. More recently, ethanol has also been used as a fuel.
In Picture’s case, we plan to use a fermentation process with specific bacteria that will transform the sugars from the raw material to create, through a chemical reaction, bio-ethanol. The bio-ethanol will then be converted into bio-mono ethylene glycol (BIO-MEG) through another phase of synthesis. This process provides us with a non-petroleum based MEG!
While complicated on the surface, we are simply applying an age-old process to textile manufacturing. In the 1950s in France, we already had the ability to make polyamide fabrics using castor bean oil. The petro-chemical industry decided otherwise by launching low-cost textiles onto the market.
Bio-sourced textiles require using a plant. Speaking of which, let’s talk about photosynthetis!
Sugar cane is a C4 plant type. In other words, it captures a lot of CO2 during the growing phase (60t per hectare per year). Even though some of the CO2 is released during the harvest, 18t remains into the soils and CO2 will be re-captured as the plant will grow again. (1)
With sorghum, corn and millet, C4 plants represent approximately 30% of CO2 captured by natural carbon sinks, according to the Royal Society. (2)
These are true allies in the fight against climate change.
However, deforestation is the main issue when it comes to farming. That’s why we don’t (and will never) use a new land only for textile purpose. We just use sugar cane waste from an existing farming making sugar.
In 2020/2021, we will make some of our jackets using both recycled (from plastic bottles) and bio-sourced fabrics as the next step in our move away from using conventional, petroleum-based polyester.
To be continued!
(1) – Evaluation of the fibrous and textile potential of sugar cane
(2) – Nature’s green revolution: the remarkable evolutionary rise of C4 plants