Sioen searches for biobased and biodegradable alternatives to provide more sustainable products

Sioen puts a lot of effort in finding sustainable alternatives for our current production processes. We aim to fight global warming (SDG 13) by ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, as stated in SDG 12. With our biobased and biodegradable fabrics, we also help realising SDGs 14 and 15.

Biobased and biodegradable Sioen solutions

Our Research and Development department is currently working on biobased and biodegradable yarns and fabrics. This dedicated research is a continuation on the running R&D projects and operational actions for sustainable production. We aim to produce sustainable textiles that have a limited impact on the environment during all phases of their lifetime. During the production process, we use as many renewable and/ or sustainable materials as possible.

Why we need sustainable production

To fight global warming (SDG 13), governments, industries and governments all over the world are working on finding more sustainable alternatives for current products and production processes. It is commonly known that it takes a very long time for plastic bags and bottles, cigarette filters, etc. to decompose. They often end up in the marine environment, instead of being collected on land and being recycled. Every year, more than 8 Mio tonnes of debris enter our seas and oceans, harming more than 800 species. If we keep on dumping items, such as bottles, bags and cups as we are doing now, the oceans will carry more plastic mass than fish by 2050. Around 80% of all pollution in seas and oceans comes from land-based activities.

A sustainable solution

Bert Groenendaal, R&D Project Coordinator at Sioen says that “in 2019, the R&D team discussed possible projects for the coming years, considering what society expects of the sector and what we can do as a producer. The number one theme we decided to work on was biobased and biodegradable materials.”

A specific taskforce was established. In only 1 year time, they started working on four different projects on biomaterials. Those projects are still up and running and multiple people of our R&D department are focussing on this topic.

Biobased and biodegradable

There are two compounds in biomaterials: biobased and biodegradable. Biobased refers to the ‘origin of life’, while biodegradable refers to ‘end of life’.

Biobased means that the material or product is (at least partly) derived from biomass. Biomass used for making bioplastics typically stems from plants such as corn, sugar cane or trees.

Biodegradable refers to a product breaking down into natural elements (carbon dioxide and water) under the influence of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi.

The figure below shows the four segments in which plastics can be divided. As can be seen in the figure, PLA, for example, is a biomaterial that is based on renewable resources that are biodegradable under certain conditions. Then commonly-known synthetic plastics are oil-based and non-biodegradable polymers, such as Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP) and polyester (PES).

Our projects

We aim to make all of our technical textiles more sustainable. “The idea is to no longer use pure petroleum-based plastics, but biobased polyesters such as PLA, which is derived from corn or sugar cane. Where biobased alternatives are not an option, we’re looking further into recycling and using recycled raw materials”, says Bert Groenendaal. We are studying which applications can become more sustainable and how we can eventually make this bio version that is 100% biobased and, in addition, biodegradable under certain conditions.

Flemish and EU projects

Our Sioen Research and Development department is currently involved in the following projects, among others, on Flemish levels, as well as EU levels.

Tune2Bio is a Flemish project that searches for a way to develop the knowledge and expertise that is needed to tune the biodegradability of polyesters through physical and chemical modification of polymers. According to Bert Groenendaal, “Some products should not start biodegrading immediately. Sometimes we only want this to happen after 5 or 10 years, for example. We are looking for a way to put a timer on this process.”

According to the ‘Blauwe Cluster’, the Coastbusters 2.0 project “will analyse best designs for optimal reef growth and create tailor-made sustainable concepts, best-practice standards and sustainable products for nature-inspired coastal protective systems.” Coastbusters is a public-private partnership between DEME, eCoast, Jan De Nul, ILVO and Sioen Industries.

Third, BionTop is an EU project Sioen is involved in, and we aim to develop “new bio-copolymers, compounds, bio composites and coatings formulation and process them into a range of recyclable, reusable and/or compostable products.

On the road to achieving the SDGs

The sustainability projects Sioen is taking part in, help “ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns”, as is stated in SDG 12. With the product developments we are currently working on, we aim to achieve target 12.2, which states that we want to “achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources” by 2030.

With this action we also help realising SDG 13 ("Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts"), 14 ("Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development") and 15 ("Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss").