A new plant-based version of nylon could offer a commercial alternative to one of the fashion industry’s most problematic materials. Its developers — biotech firm Geno and textile company Aquafil — have announced the first demonstration production run at scale of plant-based nylon-6, the building block for making nylon.
The news brings a plant-based nylon one step closer to commercialisation, according to the companies behind it. Nylon is considered an environmentally harmful material because it’s made from synthetic polymer derived from fossil fuels. Nylon clothing is also treated with chemicals, bleaching agents and synthetic dyes. Previous “sustainable” nylon alternatives have been made from recycled plastic or plastic-based fibres, also derived from fossil fuels.
The fully plant-based alternative has been co-developed on a pilot scale by biotech company Genomatica (Geno) and Aquafil, the company behind Econyl, regenerated nylon used by Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and others.
The material is made from 100 per cent plant-based feedstocks, according to the developers, such as sugar cane and industrial corn, which Geno converts to nylon-6 polymer. It has the same chemical structure as its fossil fuel-derived counterpart.
The next step is to transform the polymer into nylon applications including yarn that can be used for textiles. Geno says the material can be biodegradable; whether it is or not will depend on the end manufacturer’s production process.
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