Nonwovens have a variety of applications, from automotive to medical and even aerospace. Manufacturers in nonwoven fields have a choice in the types of materials used and must consider the benefits of each type and the benefits’ relevance to the end-product.
Today, we’ll focus on nonwoven absorbents. The nonwoven field has continued to grow in recent years and currently represents 25% of all fiber shipments. This growth shows no signs of slowing and the nonwoven market will continue to heavily rely upon fibers. The market for nonwoven absorbents has seen significant growth in cleaning and hygiene subcategories and has seen an emphasis on natural, sustainable products. Why the shift? Let’s take a look.
What are the benefits?
Sustainable materials present many benefits, none more important than their natural absorbency properties. Sure, synthetic fibers can be altered to increase absorbency for relevant applications, but that can increase lead time and cost. Companies are more and more turning to natural fibers, like hemp and kenaf, that are known to absorb 400% its own weight. These fibers save the company money and add to the overall value of the product.
Hemp and kenaf are also incredibly strong and durable – their staple strength and low cost have made them a great alternative to synthetic and wood cellulose. Though sometimes, strength can be secondary to comfort, like in most hygiene products. In those cases, we process and treat the fibers to meet the market’s needs. If the primary need goal is comfort and absorbance is a strong second, flax is another terrific option. Flax is well known as the materials of choice for Egyptian royalty. They preferred flax for its absorption properties and its breathability, a necessity in Egypt’s extreme heat.
Finally, sustainable materials have the obvious benefit of being much more eco-friendly. These bast crops can go from seed to harvest in 100 days, making them some of the most sustainable out there. Bast crops are also much kinder to the Earth than other alternatives. According to a Stockholm Environment Institute study, hemp needs an estimated 60 times less water than cotton during the growing season. Bast fibers also sequester thousands of tonnes of CO2 for every 100 acres of crop, completely offsetting the CO2 expelled in production.
Not bad, right? And that’s just comparing natural to natural. When comparing the production of natural to fiberglass, natural fibers use less than a third the energy and emit almost a fourth the CO2 per ton. Not to mention, natural fiber production uses zero water in their production, while fiberglass uses about a thousand gallons per ton.
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For any questions about nonwoven absorbents or more sustainable applications, contact us.