Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020 - 42

FOCUS

ADVANCED TEXTILES

PLASTICS ARE NOT
THE PROBLEM; THE
WAY THE HUMAN
RACE DISCARDS
PLASTIC REMAINS
THE ISSUE.
TIM HOURAHINE, THERMAL
COMPACTION GROUP

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reduction of the ability of the filter to protect
the wearer-driving shortages of usable masks
along with piles of disposed equipment.
The NWI is partnering with NatureWorks
LLC, maker of sustainably sourced Ingeoâ„¢
polylactic acids (PLA) and biopolymers, to
develop alternative filters using a bicomponent
fiber of Ingeo and polypropylene.
"We took the spunbond technology and
created a new generation of unique filters
that have excellent filtering capability
without needing to be charged, meaning
they can potentially be reused after cleaning
with peroxide or an alcohol solution," said
Behnam Pourdeyhimi, executive director of
NWI and associate dean for industry research
and extension, Wilson College of Textiles,
NC State.
In Taiwan, Far Eastern New Century
(FENC) Corp. announced the development of
a sub-nanometer bicomponent fiber of polyester with polyethylene or nylon to replace
the electrostatically charged meltblown polypropylene layer currently in use. According to
FENC, the product can be repeatedly washed
and offers bacterial filtration "far better than
that of general medical-grade masks."
The Korea Advanced Institute of Science
and Technology (KAIST) is also testing a
reusable nanofiber mask developed by
Professor Il-Doo Kim. An electrospinning
process was used to manufacture orthogonal
nanofibers by controlling their alignment.
This structure can minimize delivering the
pressure toward the air filter and maximize
the filtration efficiency.
In addition, a KAIST research team
reports that Professor Kim's nanofiber filter
was "proven to be water resistant with more
than 94 percent filtering efficiency in 20
repeated bactericidal tests with ethanol. The
nanofiber mask also showed no deformation
in its nano-membrane structure despite the 20
hand washes."
WHEN YOU CAN'T REUSE,
RECYCLE
When PPE is based on a single polymer, such
as polypropylene, sustainable recycling is
another option for keeping used items out
of the waste stream. The Welsh company
Thermal Compaction Group (TCG) has come
up with an innovation called Sterimelt.

Currently in use by a handful of National
Health Service (NHS) hospitals in the U.K.,
the Sterimelt technology employs thermal
heater plates to re-engineer a wide range of
uncontaminated polypropylene nonwoven
disposables into polypropylene blocks that
can be resold to the plastics industry.
Tim Hourahine, technical compliance
manager at TCG, explains, "In the U.K. alone
an average 2.5 kg [5.5 pounds] of additional
waste is being created during the pandemic
by nurses discarding PPE after treatment of
every patient and care home visit, every day.
Sterimelt will reduce the volume of tray wrap,
drapes, etc. by approximately 90 percent.
"The blocks can be sold back into the
plastic supply chain and have commercial
value. The reduction in waste through
thermal compaction reduces regular transport
needs, which reduces carbon footprint, makes
the wrap recovery process sustainable and
creates a full circular economy event."
According to Hourahine, contaminated
masks and gowns could potentially be
included in the recycling process, as the heat
used to melt the polypropylene is far higher
than that of regular autoclave temperature,
leaving the resulting materials sanitized
at the end of the process. However, nonpolypropylene materials such as cuffs,
waistbands, ties and noseguards that are
currently used on nonwoven PPE apparel
items would contaminate the system, so for
now, masks and gowns cannot be included.
Building on its Sterimelt recycling solution
for single-use disposable tray wrap plastics,
TCG is about to begin trialing a prototype
CurtainMelt process for single-use disposable
polypropylene bed, ward and cubicle curtains,
which are currently replacing the old, linentype ward curtains used worldwide.
"Plastics are not the problem; the way the
human race discards plastic remains the issue,"
Hourahine maintains. "Capturing single-use
plastic at the point it becomes waste gives us
at TCG the huge advantage to recover the
polypropylene as a resource and treat it as
such, by reducing its volume and sending it
back into the supply chain as a much-needed,
valued commodity."
Debra Cobb is a freelance writer with extensive
experience in the textiles industry. She lives
in North Carolina.

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Specialty Fabrics Review November 2020

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