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Innovative bioprocesses may offer benefits to a fading colour textile industry

19/09/2011

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The scaling-up of sustainable, high-tech dyeing technology is the focus of an ongoing European Commission funded project aimed at strengthening SMEs in the colour textile industry.

The Bioprocessing for Sustainable Production of Coloured Textiles project (BISCOL) is well on its way toward securing the competitiveness and eco-compliance of the European textile dyeing industry. Co-funded by the Commission’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, the project follows from the success of past research efforts carried out by businesses, universities and research institutes into eco-friendly dyeing processes. The ultimate goal of BISCOL is to scale-up these processes, and others, to a level of practical business accessibility during the project’s 36-month lifespan.

The textile industry represents a significant part of Europe’s manufacturing activities, generating a turnover of € 172 billion in 2010. Still, BISCOL comes at a time when the general state of the colour industry in Europe is looking rather bleak. Saddled by strict environmental regulation and production costs, many European enterprises have succumbed to offshore competition or have moved their activities abroad.

The European colour sector, then, is well positioned to benefit from the introduction of eco-innovative processes that would both satisfy the demand for environmental products at the European level and meet the pressures of a competitive global market.

According to Rebecca Pogni, the project’s coordinator, the competitive advantage of European countries lies primarily in their ability to contribute new technologies, even if these only serve to benefit certain niche markets, as the results of the BISCOL project are expected to do for SMEs; already, SMEs account for more than 90% of the sector’s workforce, producing 60% of the value added.

The principal aim of the project is to improve upon a number of steps and components of the conventional dyeing cycle, each of which are known to carry some environmental risk. Chief among them are the dyes themselves, which can pose health and environmental hazards.

BISCOL aims to address this concern, partly through the synthesis of new, less toxic colour compounds. These will be produced using enzymes in a bioreactor that the project’s Belgian partner, Wetlands Engineering, is developing. A Turkish enterprise, Setas Kimya, will then house the bioreactor and is expected to carry out the industrial production of the bio-dyes.

Other expected outcomes include the development of new chemical-free textile pre-treatments, as well as the synthesis of new auxiliaries with lower environmental impact.

Combined, each of these elements will serve to form a new, optimized dying process, resulting in the reduction of energy and water demand, as well as in the use of chemicals. Each step of the process will be accompanied by life cycle assessment in order to embed environmental constraints along the way.

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