Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name: About TENCEL Fabric

TENCEL® is a trademarked brand name the Tencel Group (now owned by Lenzing AG) gave to their lyocell fiber fabric. Lyocell is produced from the wood pulp cellulose of various hardwoods. Cellulose is the natural cell fibers in all vegetation. Eucalyptus trees provide the greatest yield per acre and it is believed the best fiber quality. In keeping with being earth friendly, wood pulp cellulose is collected from trees that are sustainably farmed.
A subcategory of rayon, lyocell fibers are used in making a variety of textiles and it shares many of the characteristics of rayon, ramie, cotton, and linen. Lyocell fiber fabric is a durable material with a soft luxurious feel. A variety of fabric finishes ranging from 'silky soft' to more of a 'woven knit type' surface can be achieved by using abrasive actions on the wet fibers. The tenacious characteristic of the fibers give it strength. Because it is cellulosic, it is fully biodegradable and therefore considered an environmentally friendly material.
Because the surface of the fabric can be manipulated into different textures, lyocell fiber fabric is adaptable for use in developing a variety of products. Garments made with this fabric drape well, are soft, breathable, and moisture wicking. This fabric pulls moisture from the skin releasing it into the air avoiding any bacteria from forming between the fabric and the skin. Lyocel fiber clothing tends to be great for traveling as it is lightweight, comfortable, wrinkle resistant, machine washable, quick to dry, and durable. Because of the absorbent and quick drying properties, this fabric is perfect for making towels, bandages, and baby wipes. Other uses include sheets, blankets, upholstery, car carpeting, and oil filters. Powder from the fibers is used to make specialized papers, is an ingredient used in certain building materials and is found in foam mattresses.

The Production Process 
Lyocell is made from wood chips from sustainably farmed trees. Wood chips are chemically softened with an ecofriendly non-toxic solvent forming a wet pulp. The wood pulp is dried into a continuous paper-like sheet. Sheet rolls are sent to a mill where they are broken into pieces and further dissolved in an organic solvent to form a thick solution. The solution is then pumped through small holes forming long strands of fibers. These fibers are dried, soap or silicone is applied to detangle and then the fibers are bundled. The bundles of continuous lengths of dried finished fibers are machine textured and combed to separate the strands. These strands are baled for shipment to manufacturers for weaving into fabric used to create garments and other products.

Environmental Considerations 
Made from plant material, Lyocell is considered a natural product and is easily biodegradable. Raw materials are harvested from certified pesticide free sustainable tree farms. These farms are on lands that are unsuitable for anything else like food crops or grazing. The yield of harvested wood pulp is dissolved in a non-toxic organic solvent. When this solution is pushed through small holes to produce fiber, the solvent extruded is reclaimed in a 'closed loop' process with minimal environmental impact. Because the process reuses more than 99% of the solvent it is considered relatively eco-friendly. The process however uses a substantial amount of energy.

Although production of lyocell fibers is considered eco-friendly, turning the fibers into textiles may not be. Because of its tendency to pill some manufacturers resort to use of harsh chemical processes to weaken surface hairs so they can be removed to avoid pilling. It is difficult to get dyes to bind to the surface of lyocell fibers, causing some manufactures to resort to use of conventional dye treatments that are harmful to the environment. There are quite a few manufactures with earth friendly leanings that avoid the harsh chemicals and use low impact dyes which are more eco-friendly.
All things considered lyocell fiber fabric is a great earth friendly material to use in a variety of products. Its many attractive properties make it a great choice for products ranging from exercise clothes - moisture wicking properties, travel garments - wrinkle free properties, towels - quick drying properties, and auto carpeting - durability.

Although not organic, it is still considered a natural product. Fibers are produced from sustainable raw materials and are biodegradable. The close loop process of producing the fibers keeps waste by-products to a minimum. Of most concern is the possible use of harsh chemicals to turn the fibers into fabric. Those with chemical sensitivities and those wanting to remain eco-friendly should search out manufacturers that avoid the use of heavy chemicals and dyes in the production process.

No comments:

Post a Comment