Usbek & Rica: How do you manage to manufacture polyester with CO2?
Benoit Illy : We have developed a new technology based on catalytic chemistry. It consists in converting CO2 into precursors chemical, which are the chemical molecules used to manufacture polyester. It sounds a bit magical, but nature does it very well. Trees capture CO2 and convert it, with the help of enzymes and solar energy, into natural fiber. We reproduce this process in the laboratory. Only, instead of using enzymes, we use catalysts. And instead of producing natural fibers, we produce synthetic fibers. One of the big advantages of the technology is that the material, polyester, remains the same. You just change the way it’s made. So it’s completely transparent to the customers.
Usbek & Rica : How much it would reduce the carbon footprint of a T-shirt ?
Benoit Illy : A T-shirt generates about 200g of CO2, just for the raw material. After that, the manufacturing steps add about a third more. So a total of about 300g of CO2 per T-shirt. With our technology, we can reduce this footprint to 200g of CO2 emitted on the final product. For the moment, we are in the laboratory phase. We have already manufactured the first samples of clothing in very small quantities. We are in the process of raising funds to set up a pilot line that will allow us to increase production from kilo to ton.
Usbek & Rica : In your opinion, how can we decarbonize textile industry ?
Benoit Illy : Raw materials are one of the biggest areas to tackle. There is also energy. All industrial processes use energy and this is happening a lot in Asian countries where the share of coal is still very high, such as in India and China. Transitioning to greener energies would have a very strong impact on the textile industry’s emissions. On the other hand, we notice that mentalities are changing. Most major groups have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, with the Fashion Pact or the Fashion Industry Charter launched at COP24. But they do not yet have a clear plan to achieve this. Personally, I am convinced that with disruptive technologies like the one we are developing, we can achieve a CO2-neutral textile industry.