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Advanced Eco-designed Fibres and Films for large consumer products from biobased polyamides and polyesters in a circular EConomy perspecTIVE

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EFFECTIVE (Advanced Eco-designed Fibres and Films for large consumer products from biobased polyamides and polyesters in a circular EConomy perspecTIVE)

Reporting period: 2021-06-01 to 2023-02-28

In the last years, all European industrial sectors have been experiencing important challenges: first, the disruption of entire supply chains due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the issues related to transport, and then the energy crisis that impacted the European continent.
These challenges highlight the need for new industrial and business models to keep the EU industry competitive in the global scenario.
Though sustainability has recently gained significant importance, now more than ever it is of key importance to establish strong links between bio-based economy and circular economy, where supply chains rely on sustainable plant-based raw materials and ensure that resources and products at the end of their useful life are diverted from landfill or incineration, and reused or recycled in a closed-loop perspective. All these operations shall be performed via sustainable technologies characterized by a lower footprint compared to the conventional processes currently used.
This was the approach of project EFFECTIVE, and the achieved results demonstrated that the transition to a more resilient and sustainable industrial model is possible: novel bio-based polymers were successfully produced at demo scale starting from sustainable feedstocks (selected sugars and vegetable oils), and validated in different prototypes of large consumer products. Circularity of these bio-based materials, as well as their reduced carbon footprint (compared to benchmark fossil-based solutions) were also proven, paving the way for the future scale up of the demonstrated technologies.
For what concerns the production of sustainable feedstock, two routes have been investigated: sustainable sources of sugars and of vegetable oils. In the first case, the process to simultaneously produce 1st and 2nd generation sugars was successfully validated and demonstrated, and the obtained sugars used in fermentation trials towards producing high value chemicals. While in the second one, alternative sources of vegetable oils (i.e. used cooking oil) were successfully used as raw materials for the production of innovative dicarboxylic acids.
Both sustainable sources of sugars and vegetable oils were then used at pilot and pre-industrial scale as feedstock to produce innovative bio-based building blocks, which were then converted into bio-based polyamides (Nylon 6 and specialty Nylons), and in bio-based and biodegradable polyesters.
The first-ever batches of 100% bio-based Nylon 6 were successfully produced at pre-industrial scale, and subsequently spun and reprocessed into BCF and NTF yarns (both solution-dyed and raw white). BCF yarns were used to manufacture prototypes of residential carpets at industrial scale, which were extensively characterized and compared with benchmark products. Similarly, NTF yarns were firstly warp knitted to produce fabrics, and then successfully used to produce prototypes of large consumer products, namely swimsuits and bike pants. Both prototypes of carpets and garments were manufactured according to the eco-design measures identified within the project. Bio-based Nylon 6 was also validated in additional applications, e.g. engineering plastics and films.
Bio-based specialty Nylons were successfully produced at both pilot and industrial scale, and then used to produce a wide range of prototypes, i.e. mono-material films, yarns, membranes, additives and hotmelts for the carpet industry.
Bio-based and biodegradable polyesters were used to produce bio-materials, which were successfully converted into compostable films for packaging applications.
The developed eco-design measures were also successfully validated for what concerns the recyclability of carpets, whose new design enabled to recover higher purity fractions suitable for further valorization/recycling, and the organic recyclability of films from bio-materials including bio-based polyesters, whose bio-degradability and compostability was proven both for home and industrial composting.
For what concern sustainability aspects, solutions to energetically valorize waste streams and to improve the energy efficiency of future plant to produce the targeted bio-based materials were identified and studied in detail. Besides, the environmental, economic and social sustainability of the demonstrated solutions was assessed, suggesting positive benefits in terms of reduction of carbon footprint (compared to the benchmark products from fossil resources) and of social opportunities for what concerns technology development, commitment to sustainability issues and contribution to economic development. To complement these analyses, social acceptance was investigated and suggested some areas should be addressed in order to improve acceptance of these bio-based solutions; while the review of the main standards and certifications related to EFFECTIVE’s materials and technologies highlighted some gaps/opportunities in certification schemes for bio-synthetic textile based on a solid, traceable and reliable chain of custody.
Finally, despite some bottlenecks linked to the pandemic situation, the project was extensively communicated and disseminated via different channels: throughout the entire project lifetime, 2 scientific papers were published, the project was presented at 80+ events/conferences,12 training sessions were delivered and 13 newsletters were issued; also, a project video was produced, the project’s website was visited by more 2500+ visitors, and 200+ posts and tweets were posted on social media channels. All in all, these activities allowed to set up a group of external stakeholders involving 100+ members from 27 countries.
At the end of the project, the following innovations were developed, validated at pilot scale and demonstrated at relevant operational scale: i) process for the simultaneous production of 1st and 2nd generation sugars via sugar beet liquefaction; ii) processes (both upstream and downstream) to obtain high quality bio-based dicarboxylic acids from new sources of sugars and oils; iii) innovative bio-polyesters and compostable biomaterials based on the aforementioned dicarboxylic acids suitable for non-food packaging applications; iv) an innovative process to produce bio-based caprolactam and Nylon 6 starting from sugars; v) the production of innovative specialty polyamides from bio-based raw materials; vi) the production of yarns from the bio-based polyamides and their validation into fabrics, garments and carpet prototypes; vii) the production of films for food and non-food applications from bio-based specialty polyamides and biodegradable and compostable biomaterials, respectively; viii) eco-design guidelines for manufacturing more recyclable garment and carpet products; ix) assessment of the effectiveness of eco-design measures through recycling trials.
Additional applications for the demonstrated bio-based materials were also successfully tested, validating the high replicability potential of the developed solutions. Furthermore, the improved environmental footprint (compared to fossil-based counterparts) of the EFFECTIVE bio-based materials and products was also proven.
Activities on the circularity of the targeted products, and on assessing the consumers' and stakeholder perception of the EFFECTIVE bio-based solutions, were also successfully finalized, suggesting positive benefits which might be fully exploited once all developed technologies will be upscaled at commercial scale.
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