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Development of ECOlogical friendly and flexible production processes for textile COATings based on innovative polyolefine polymer formulations

Final Report Summary - DECOCOAT (Development of ECOlogical friendly and flexible production processes for textile COATings based on innovative polyolefine polymer formulations)

Executive Summary:

The European textile industry is confronted with a constant increase of ecological awareness. For instance, soft PVC is coming under ecological pressure. The polymer not only has high halogen content, but also requires the use of plasticisers.

Some of these (e. g. specific phthalates) are toxic and can alter the expression of gender characteristics and are leading to a lowered fertility. Some of these chemicals are already banned from selected textile applications (e. g. baby's clothing) via legislation or eco-labels such as ?kotex.

Consumer organisation and ecologists are raising the pressure further to limit the use of these products. As a result voices are raised to ban soft PVC containing textile articles further. This is not only to be considered as a thread but also as an opportunity for the textile industry and the SMEs involved. Indeed, if appropriate eco-friendly alternatives are developed, offering in addition technological advantages, a new route for innovative and high-end textile articles becomes available.

The present project, DECOCOAT, is focussing on the development of PO based functional polymers for the textiles industry. Recent developments within the PO production generate new sets of polymers, belonging to the most environmental friendly of all synthetic polymers. Thanks to the integrated functionalities and the (block) copolymer composition, a large range of mechanical properties and softness can be reached without the use of plasticisers. Within the project, implementation of these novel polymers on textiles were explored using application routes offering the highest flexibility and requiring minimum new investments. The novel developed textiles will offer an ecologic alternative for the soft PVC coated or printed articles.

Project background and objectives:

The need: environmental friendly coating to replace PVC

The European textile industry is confronted with a constant increase of ecological awareness, reflected into legislation and end consumer concern. For instance, soft PVC is coming more and more under ecological pressure. The polymer not only has high halogen content, but also requires the use of high amount of plasticisers. Some of these (for instance specific phthalates) are potentially toxic and can alter the expression of gender characteristics and are leading to a lowered fertility. Phthalates in PVC for consumer products and building materials raises concern in relation to particularly sensitive and exposed population groups. In the EU, five phthalates are currently being risk assessed; in Denmark, an action plan has been introduced to halve the use of phthalates over the next ten years. Other countries, including Sweden and Germany, have set similar goals. Consequently, there is a drive for finding alternatives to the present plasticisers which is likely to grow in the near future. The Danish EPA had pre-selected five substances for assessment, and in consultation with the industry, six other substances were identified as representatives of the remaining groups of alternative plasticisers. Some of these chemicals are already banned from selected textile applications (e. g. clothing for baby's or children coming in contact with the skin) either via legislation or eco-labels such as ?kotex. Consumer organisation and ecologists are raising the pressure further to limit the use of these products.

As a result voices are raised – especially in Scandinavia-to ban soft PVC containing textile articles further. This should not only be considered as a threat but as an important opportunity for the textile industry and the SMEs involved to develop new products, getting ahead of eastern European competition and increasing markets. Indeed, the development of eco-friendly alternatives with technological advantages opens up a new route for innovative and high-end textile articles, strengthening the position of SMEs involved in textiles.

The concept: start from Europe's strength in polymers

The project starts from the strengths and opportunities available within the European industry. Indeed Europe has the lead in the development of chemicals and polymers. This is certainly true for the European PO industry, that along with an enormous production capacity is still focussing in R&D of innovative and specialty products. Based on the development of new catalyst and processing procedures, a constant stream of new and specially designed PO copolymers are generated and made available for the industry. These copolymers cover a large variation in properties such as crystallinity/amorphous balance, melt temperature, low glass transition temperature, softness and variable chemical functionalities generating an adaptable hydrophilic/hydrophobic balance. These novel copolymers are in general created for the melt-processing industry and are more and more applied in a large range of end-products (automotive parts, household articles, toys, etc). Due to their specific composition and properties they are used to upgrade and replace other polymer systems including polymers that are less environmental friendly such as PVC (halogen and phthalates content). Recently it was also shown that these polymers can be used for extrusion processes and they can also be transferred into stable water dispersions with high solid (± 50 %) content.

Main objectives: explore a novel value chain based on polyolefine coated textile articles.

Within DECOCOAT, innovative polyolefine (PO) dispersion will be explored for use on textiles. Tailored formulations will be evaluated towards implementation into the textile coating industry. Therefore, the goal is to develop novel coating processes based on the PO formulations for use on yarn and fabric. Also the implications on the further processing (e. g. knitting and weaving) of these novel coated textile materials will be investigated with the final goal to realise demonstrators in different areas.

This translates into the following objectives:
• Adaptation and optimisation of the PO formulations according the requirements of the applied textile processes
• Development of PO coated yarns
• Development of PO coated fabrics
• Definition of additives to adapt the formulations according to the processing need
• Functionalisation of the developed coatings using specific additives
• Adaptation of the further processing of yarns and fabrics in order to maximise the added value of the PO coated articles

Context of the project in a larger perspective: innovation for the SME-based textile sector.

The European Textiles and Clothing industry has a longstanding tradition of leadership in terms of innovation, fashion and creativity, and despite increasingly fierce global competition and significant relocation of manufacturing to low-wage countries; it continues to represent one of Europe's major industrial sectors with an annual turnover of ca. 200 billion Euro and a total workforce of 2 million peopel. It is a major player in world trade, the first in textile exports and the third in clothing. With a total of roughly 200, 000 companies in the enlarged EU, of which ca. 95 % are SMEs (!), it covers a fascinating industrial landscape, producing a myriad of different consumer and industrial products, using countless knowledge-intensive and highly specialised production processes and related technologies.

A constant stream of innovation is one of the key elements to stay ahead in the ever increasing competition and to create a competitive advantage, preferentially in the area of technical textiles and textile applications with a high added value. This is in accordance with the conclusions from the "European Textile Platform" who prepared a roadmap for the future of the textile industry and who also defined major area's of innovation the industry should preferentially focus on. Therefore, they suggest that research efforts should be directed to:
• Innovation in products with a high technical level
• Innovation in processing allowing the highest production flexibility
• Innovations in specially designed properties and functionalities
• Innovation in high tech markets and high added values
• Innovation in tailor made specialty products for niche markets
• Innovation in products and technologies in respect with ecological requirements

DECOCOAT is really aiming at the heart of these concerns and could offer a major contribution to most of these requested innovations, in the area of coated or finished textiles. Not only the more traditional "fabric coating" but also innovative products via yarn coating technologies are envisaged.

Project results:

In order to discuss the key results from DECOCOAT, we follow the main steps needed to realise polyolefine (PO) based coated textile articles. This includes the following aspects:
• Identification and characterisation of existing PO dispersions
• Tuning and functionalisation of PO dispersions
• PO coating on yarns
• PO coating on fabrics
• Processing of PO coated yarns and fabrics
• Realisation of demonstrators

Identification of existing PO dispersions

This task encompasses the identification of companies supplying polyolefin dispersions (PODs) on an industrial scale. Several products were found. To select the most interesting products, the selection criteria applied were: (i) water-based products; (ii) olefin based composition; and (iii) chlorine free products.

Based on the information gathered on the PODs, it was decided to focus the attention of WP1 on a small set of products. Two main producers were contacted and asked for product samples.

A first step was to work on the characterisation of the PODs. The goal was to get a feeling for the various PODs commercially available, to get to know their basic properties and to gain knowledge on how to tune them into suitable products for textile application. Further, also the film forming capacities of the various products were investigated.

Tuning and functionalisation of PO dispersions

Once the products were characterised, the focus shifted towards tuning and functionalising the PO dispersions. Two main aspects were investigated: possibilities for integrating colorants in the coated film and for integrating additives that could functionalise the coating formulations. For the latter, several options were investigated: fire retardancy, uv resistance, electrical conductivity, water and oil repellency, … As a result, we learned that the PO dispersions can be coloured and that several of the anticipated functionalisations are possible.

PO coating on yarns

An important part of the work related to the coating of yarns with PO dispersions. This turned out to be more complex as anticipated. But, by carefully adapting the PO formulations and by choosing the right application technology, it became possible to coat both mono-and multifilament yarns with polyolefines.

After the laboratory scale testing, also larger scale, industrial runs were performed, leading to the production of several kilometres of PO coated multifilament yarn.

The findings of this work resulted also in a set of rules of thumb for coating yarns with PO dispersions.

PO coating on fabrics

Also the coating of fabrics with PO dispersions was an important part of the DECOCOAT work plan.

It was found that by tuning the POD formulation and be using different coating techniques, textile fabrics (both woven and knitted) could be coated starting with PO dispersions. The start of the formulation was the commercially available of-the-shelf POD. These dispersions are on themselves not suited for coating. But, by tuning them with the right additives and the right processing, they could be turned into coating formulations suitable for a wide range of coating techniques (knife coating, padding, screen printing, transfer coating, …). That way, the feasibility of coating textiles with PO could be shown.

This resulted in a set of rules of thumb for coating textile fabrics with PO dispersions.

Processing of PO coated yarns and fabrics
Yarns produced with a surface coated layer of PO (polyolefine) have different properties then similar yarns with a PVC coating. Therefore, it was important to evaluate if these yarns still can be used in various fabric production processes such as knitting and weaving (as warp and/or weft yarns). Additionally, thermo bonding of coated yarns may be of interest in sunscreens and was also looked into.

Alternative to processing coated yarns, a plain fabric padded with PO could also be envisioned. In such case, the fragile weft structure may be stabilised with PO while tuning the transparency by filling more or less meshes with PO.

As far as confection (i. e. the transformation of coated fabrics into garments or other textile products) is concerned, only realistic methods currently used at industrial scale at the partners were evaluated. As a result, it could be concluded that thermo bonding, cutting (scissors), sewing and thermo welding is feasible with the coated yarns or fabrics.

Realisation of demonstrators
Within DECOCOAT, the various results were made more concrete via the realisation of 4 demonstrators. All four cases are briefly discussed below.

DEM1: sewing yarn with melt bonding potential PO coated yarns used as sewing threads offer the possibility that, by additional heat treatment of the seam, a double bonding effect can be obtained: via the non-melting base yarn and via the glue effect of the molten PO fraction. In addition it is expected that the stitches will be closed via heat treatment due to the molten PO fraction so that the product would regain its impermeability.

This goal was unfortunately not reached. The PO coating did not flow sufficiently when heated to seal the holes made during stitching. There is nevertheless still potential in this application, namely for technical yarns used for bonding applications.

DEM2: PO coated sun screens
The goal was to investigate the possibility of PO coated open sun screens, to be produced as an alternative to the existing PVC coated sun screens.

The proof of concept could be shown: a PO coated polyester yarn could be processed into a woven screen. The PO coating of the PES yarns is seen as an environmental friendly alternative for the current PVC extrusion coating of these yarns. However, for the time being this is only possible for high end applications due to the cost of the PODs.

DEM3: PO print on children's clothing. The realisation of a multi-coloured print on children's clothing is the topic of DEM3. Although not a technical textile, this is still an important model taking into consideration that there have been toxicological problems related to some PVC prints.

By fine tuning the POD formulation and by using various auxiliary products, patterns could be printed on (both woven and knitted) textile fabrics via the screen printing technique. So, the feasibility of printing on textiles with PO based formulations for the application of children clothing could be shown.

DEM4: PO coated work wear/rainwear

The main demonstrator was to check the feasibility of using PO coated fabrics for work wear and or rain wear by making an actual garment.

Although functionalisation of the PO coatings was possible, e. g. for water and oil repellency, and although an excellent water column could be obtained, not all requirements were met: fire retardant coatings were not feasible, neither were breathable ones.

Nevertheless, it could be shown that PO coated fabrics are compatible with standard processing techniques, resulting in the making of a ladies rain jacket.

Potential Impact:

Impact:

Although the developed polyolefine coatings can be applied to traditional textiles including apparel (especially as they offer an alternative for PVC printed clothing for babies and children), the major application areas envisaged are technical textile applications. This relatively small project can only influence only a limited fraction of the huge technical textile market (currently ca. 25 % of the total textile market corresponding with ca. 13billion euro).

But, on the other hand, the future of the sector and especially of the SME companies involved depends on a multitude and constant stream of "smaller" innovation projects. Indeed, projects like this can result in tailor made products with a high added value that will offer a solid basis for an improved competitiveness of the European (textile) SME community.

A further impact is expected concerning the current ecological and human safety concern related to the use of (softened) PVC materials. The presence of potentially toxic products in soft PVC (especially phthalates) along with the fact that PVC is a halogen based polymer, is a major concern within the community and more and more end-users are asking for valuable alternatives. If the PO grades are well formulated and functionalised with selected additives that cause no negative effects, the product can offer a real breakthrough. Since PO grades can be selected that are very soft by themselves the use of plasticisers in these applications can be avoided. These ecological elements (along with recyclability) will offer a major advantage in marketing and makes it possible that a relatively small increase in end price is acceptable.

Networking of SME companies.

It is generally accepted that SME companies can benefit largely from networking. On the one hand, a single SME has typically limited resources and its expertise is rather specific and focussed on a particular domain. On the other hand, innovation stems more and more from cross-sectoral collaboration, multidisciplinary research, … Large companies can afford to have several groups, and even departments, in-house but this is out of reach for a typical SME company.

Therefore, SME companies can benefit of close collaboration with a (large) number of other (SME) companies. This collaboration can be loose but a more structured and integrated way of working in a collaborative network is more appropriate. DECOCOAT allowed the six SME companies participating in DECOCOAT to work together in that way.

Indeed, each of the SME companies had its own specific expertise. Because of the getting to know during DECOCOAT, the SME partners discovered that they can also benefit from collaboration among each other outside the strict DECOCOAT scope. This is for example the case for the companies SCHMITS and LUXILON who are now permanently working together. Similarly, also SCHMITS and CALCUTTA work on a common development.

Networking of SME companies and RTD centres.

Next to the collaboration among the SME partners, also the interaction and collaboration among the RTD centres and the companies is vital. Also here DECOCOAT resulted in spin-off ideas for further research and innovation. As an example, AITEX and CENTEXBEL have been involved in a couple of European research proposals together with a DECOCOAT SME company.

Dissemination activities:

The DECOCOAT project was represented by Centexbel at the 4th Dornbirn conference held on September 17th 2010. Here, the project was presented through a powerpoint presentation.

AITEX represented DECOCOAT at the 4th International Textile Congress "Competitive innovation, research and technology-based solutions" held last 26th to 28th October in Alcoy. A poster was presented and leaflets prepared by Centexbel were available in 100 copies.

On January 2011, the Spanish ATEVAL magazine featured an article about DECOCOAT.

DECOCOAT was represented at the Techtextil conference on May 24-26th in Frankfurt. FOV, SCHMITS, LUXILON, AITEX and CENTEXBEL was present at this event and a poster was produced to promote DECOCOAT.

All the partners present have disseminated the project in its booth through the project leaflet.

An overview of DECOCOAT public results was presented in a special coating edition of "CTB Info" (news letter from Centexbel). The article was offered both in Dutch and in French. This news letter is spread to over 500 companies. They are mainly Belgian textile companies but a relevant part of the companies are either non-Belgium but European textile companies or European companies from sectors related to the textile, e. g. chemistry suppliers.

During the event "Drivers for the Lombardy Region textile industry" organised by EURATEX, the European Textile Association, and by Lombartech the DECOCOAT project was presented as an example of European collaboration by CTB. It was explained that FP7 projects like DECOCOAT enable also relatively small SMEs from a more traditional sector like textile to collaborate within Europe and to work on innovation.

The program of MIICS2012 (6th MIKKELI INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIAL COATING SEMINAR in Finland) is focused on the use of coating technology and its development for near-and medium-term industrial applications. It included a session on coatings for flexible/textile materials. Within this session, CTB presented current and future trends of coating on textiles, including a section on the use of polyolefine dispersions based on DECOCOAT outcome.

Oral presentation, "High-tech Monofilaments for medical and technical applications", place: Alcoy (ES), October 26-27, description: 4th International Textile Congress, ca. 100 participants, partner: LUXILON.

DECOCOAT was disseminated at the Annual Conference of the European Textile Platform in AITEX booth through the project leaflet.

A project web-page (https://web.archive.org/web/20140517063442/http://www.decocoat.org/) has been established as a tool to share information of the project and its progress with the public.

Exploitation of the results:

Key exploitable results.

DECOCOAT enabled the participating SME companies to extend and deepen their knowledge concerning the use of polyolefine (PO) dispersions for textile applications. Expertise has been gathered on four main domains:
• Adapted PO formulations and specific functional additive formulations for PO dispersion
• Know-how on the application of PO formulations to yarns and on yarn coating
• Know-how on the application (coating and printing) of polyolefine formulations to fabrics
• Know-how on confection possibilities of the PO based textile materials

For each of these domains, the consortium partners were able to extend their knowledge base dramatically. This puts the partners in the position where they can discuss with their clients the use of PO based materials.

Exploitation beyond DECOCOAT

The disseminations activities performed in the past, the availability of the project web site and the fact that DECOCOAT has been integrated in some databases created and still creates quite some visibility for the project.

As a result, the project consortium already got a request from a large textile company, not part of the DECOCOAT consortium, who wants to apply the expertise gained on polyolefine dispersions based multifilament yarn coating. This application is currently under negotiation with the relevant DECOCOAT partners.

This shows that DECOCOAT generates opportunities for the SME companies who participated.

Project website:

https://web.archive.org/web/20140517063442/http://www.decocoat.org/

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