Ioncell from Helsinki

Two leading universities of Finland, Aalto University and University of Helsinki, have created a new sustainable fiber, which has the potential to transform the fashion industry for good. Ioncell is a technology that turns used textiles, pulp or even old newspapers into new textile fibers sustainably and without harmful chemicals. The process converts cellulose into fibers, which in turn can be made into fabrics again. The heart of the whole process is an ionic liquid, which is environmentally friendly and recyclable and non-flammable. The technology creates a promising pathway towards a circular fashion industry. What sounds so great has a research history of over 10 years by now. The whole process is quite complex. Recycled fibers or new bio materials go through a dissolution process. Afterwards the material has to be weaved. Fibers resulting out of that spinning part will be transformed into yarn. Finally, the yarn is used to produces textile products. These fabrics can be recycled again through the whole process. So the loop is closed.

The yarn looks quite soft and has nice characteristics. They equal viscose and tencel fibers. Ioncell fibers are biodegradable and can be dyed like cotton and viscose. The production of the Ioncell fibers works at the moment only in the lab. The researchers will build their first pilot manufacturing plant within the next two years. They believe that scaling is not a problem. To produce fabrics out of Ioncell on a higher scale will endure a few years. The commercialization of the yarn is going to start in 2025. The competitor is Lenzing with its patented Tencel technology, dominating the market. There are other startups on the way, to search for sustainable solutions to transform the fashion industry. Aalto started designing clothes made from Ioncell. The have had a cooperation with Finish label Marimekko in 2014 and last week design students from Aalto University presented their drafts in Paris. The researchers say that designers have to ask for sustainable yarns like Ioncell. Not only the demand side has to evolve, also the collection systems of used textiles have to develop and become more comprehensive to reach closed loops. We hope that Ioncell will work it out – from laboratory to market, to enter a new era of textile production.

Copyright Photos by Ioncell & Juho Huttunen



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