Research and development activities in the Lenzing Group are concentrated in the Research and Development Department (R&D), a corporate unit based in Lenzing. At the end of 2021, a total of 222 staff were employed in R&D. R&D expenditures, calculated according to the Frascati method (after the deduction of grants), amounted to EUR 31.6 mn (compared with EUR 34.8 mn in 2020). Lenzing holds 1,487 patents and patent applications (from 190 patent families) in 52 countries as of the end of 2021.
The pandemic and its implications for public and private life continued to affect R&D in the year under review. Lenzing adapted its R&D portfolio to these circumstances in order to continue to fully support key projects and to further advance strategic topics such as textile recycling and forward solutions (e.g. TENCEL™ Luxe and LENZING™ Web Technology).
Focus areas in 2021
Sustainability is not only a core value within Lenzing’s strategy, but also a guiding principle for innovation and product development.
In both process and product development, the R&D function is continuously working on solutions that further support the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. A current focus in process development is the further integration of the biorefinery concept at the pulp production sites, and consequently even better material utilization of wood as raw material. Further projects focus on closing loops and reducing wastewater, as well as energy efficiency enhancement and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
Lenzing continued to expand its product offering for the textile and nonwovens industries in 2021. The hydrophobic LENZING™ Lyocell Dry fiber, for example, combines the advantages of standard lyocell fiber with the ability to repel moisture and liquid. Unlike conventional cellulosic fibers, water cannot penetrate the fibers. Instead, the water forms beads on the surface. This fiber thereby makes it possible to tap further application areas that were previously largely dependent on petroleum-based fibers.
The Indigo Color technology, which forms the basis for a further product innovation from the year under review, enables denim customers to improve their range in terms of sustainability and quality. With the aid of this pioneering technology, indigo pigments can be integrated during fiber production, which ensures better color fastness than conventional indigo dyeing processes while consuming far fewer resources.
With LENZING™ Web Technology, Lenzing developed a process for producing cellulosic nonwovens directly from textile pulp, thereby enabling processing steps along the value chain to be saved, and the ecological footprint to be reduced. The Republic of Austria highlighted this development’s innovative character in 2020 by awarding it the “State Prize for Innovation”.
In 2021, Lenzing was one of the few companies to receive sought-after “Green Frontrunner” funding from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). “Green Frontrunner” funding helps establish new, aggressive business area strategies that have a positive impact on environmental and climate protection. The project that is being funded bundles several technology areas relating to the further closing of materials loops and reducing emissions in pulp and fiber production.
Innovation centers and collaborations
In addition, intensive communication occurs with the application and innovation centers in Hong Kong and Purwakarta, where new applications for Lenzing’s textile fibers are developed on site in cooperation with customers. Based on these joint development activities, Lenzing is intensifying global collaboration with partners along the value chain.
In order to give further impetus to the circular economy, Lenzing signed a partnership agreement with Swedish pulp producer Södra in 2021. As part of this cooperation, the two companies intend to share their knowledge and jointly develop new processes to recycle used textiles. A capacity expansion for pulp from textile waste is also planned. The aim is to be able to recycle approximately 25,000 tonnes of used textiles per year by 2025. Lenzing has been proactively developing and promoting recycling innovations such as its REFIBRA™ and Eco Cycle technologies for several years in order to provide solutions to the global textile waste problem.
The first TENCEL™ lyocell fibers made from wood- and orange-based fiber pulp were presented during the third quarter. The first fabrics are currently being developed in collaboration with Italian specialist Orange Fiber. The upcycling of orange peels as part of the TENCEL™ Limited Edition Initiative represents a further successful attempt by Lenzing to develop new circular solutions together with partners along the value chain.
After its opening in the previous year, in 2021 the nonwovens development center at Hof University of Applied Sciences in Germany was commissioned for internal and external customer trials. In this state-of-the-art facility, new innovative applications for sustainably produced nonwoven fibers from Lenzing are developed together with partners along the value chain.