The Research & Development division plays a central role in the Lenzing Group’s research and development activities. As of the end of 2022, a total of 218 people were employed in this area (2021: 222). However, most of the development work is conducted in collaboration with various areas of the company as well as with external partners. Research and development expenditures calculated according to the Frascati method (after the deduction of grants) amounted to EUR 34.8 mn (compared with EUR 31.6 mn in 2021). As of the end of 2022, Lenzing held 1,574 patents and patent applications (from 182 patent families) in 53 countries.
Focus areas in 2022
Sustainability with a special focus on recycling and the circular economy is not only a core value in Lenzing’s strategy, but also a guiding principle for innovation and product development. As a consequence, almost all development projects contain significant aspects relating to environmental sustainability. In both product and process development, the R&D function is continuously working on solutions that further support the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. These include projects to close production cycles and reduce wastewater, as well as to enhance energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
The topic of textile recycling and the transformation of the textile business model from a linear to a circular economy model formed a further focus of Lenzing’s research and development activities in 2022. During the year under review, intensive work was again carried out with Swedish pulp producer Södra with the joint objective of developing a process for recycling used textiles and setting up a pilot plant. At the same time, the developments of the REFIBRA™ and Eco Cycle technologies were also further advanced. Lenzing’s recycling and circular economy activities were awarded the prestigious environmental prize of the Austrian Society for Environment and Technology (ÖGUT) in the “World without Waste” category in 2022.
In addition to recycling used textiles, Lenzing is also increasingly involved in evaluating further cellulose sources as raw material alternatives – including residual materials from the agricultural and food sectors. After the presentation of a TENCEL™ Limited Edition together with Orange Fiber 2021, Lenzing followed up with a TENCEL™ Limited Edition with hemp as an alternative pulp source in the reporting year. Hemp is considered an extremely sustainable fiber and an alternative to many conventional textile fibers. This was the first time that hemp-based pulp was processed into lyocell fibers in Lenzing’s environmentally responsible lyocell manufacturing process. These formed the basis for the world’s first biodegradable stretch denim fabric from Candiani Denim.
Lenzing also expanded its range of sustainable specialty fibers for the textile and nonwovens industries during the year under review. The deployment of hydrophobic fibers in hygiene products enabled the production of biodegradable prototypes for hygiene applications. In the wipes sector, the trend towards 100 percent cellulosic products was supported at several levels.
The new matte TENCEL™ lyocell fibers are specifically designed to diffuse light and reduce shine in denim applications. By combining functionality and aesthetics, matte lyocell fibers enhance the versatility of denim designs while reducing the environmental footprint of the resultant fabrics and garments. Produced in the resource-conserving lyocell process, the new fibers offer all the comfort benefits of classic TENCEL™ lyocell fibers and give dark, indigo-dyed, fabrics a deep and reduced-gloss appearance.
TENCEL™ modal fibers with Indigo Color technology continued to establish themselves as an environmentally responsible fiber alternative in the denim segment during the year under review. For this, they were awarded the Sustainability and Innovation Prize at the ITMF Annual Conference in Davos, Switzerland. In the new technology, the indigo pigment is incorporated directly into the TENCEL™ modal fibers in a single-stage spin dyeing process. This process provides better color fastness than conventional indigo dyeing. Compared to conventional indigo yarns, the production of TENCEL™ modal fibers with Indigo Color technology saves approximately 99 percent electricity and water, 80 percent chemicals and 100 percent thermal energy, thereby significantly reducing the environmental footprint of denim products.
The two projects for the forward integration of the lyocell process, TENCEL™ Luxe and LENZING™ Web Technology, combine Lenzing’s process and product development. Both projects were successfully continued in the reporting year. Two pilot plants are available for the development and production of the first commercial volumes of the TENCEL™ Luxe brand cellulose filament. In 2022, the process was further developed and application areas were opened up. These range from haute couture to denim and active wear, with a number of these developments that were carried out together with partners also winning awards, such as the ISPO Award 2022 for newly developed elastane-free stretch fibers based on TENCEL™ Luxe filaments.
LENZING™ Web Technology produces cellulosic nonwovens directly from textile pulp. This technology has now been successfully combined with the pulp wet laying process, enabling nonwovens with up to 60 percent recycled content to be produced with a simultaneous reduction in specific energy requirements. LENZING™ Web Technology is used in the market for hygiene and wipe applications as well as in technical applications.
Know-how transfer and cross-learning within the Lenzing Group form an essential part of the activities of the R&D laboratory and pilot plant teams, which also played a central role in the start-up of the two key projects in Thailand and Brazil. The in-house development of new or more accurate analytical methods, the development of new measurement procedures and the transfer of these within the production areas also form key R&D tasks.
Innovation centers and collaborations
Collaborations form an essential part of R&D activities, both within and outside the Lenzing Group. Intensive communication is conducted with the application and innovation centers in Hong Kong and Purwakarta. Together with customers, new applications for textile fibers are developed on site. Lenzing is thereby intensifying its global cooperation with partners along the value chain. New innovative applications for sustainably produced nonwoven fibers are being developed at the Nonwovens Development Center at Hof University of Applied Sciences (Germany).
In order to create structures in the textile and apparel industry and thereby develop a holistic solution for the circular economy, Lenzing is pursuing further activities beyond its cooperation with Södra. Lenzing is a partner in the Horizon Europe project CISUTAC (Circular and Sustainable Textile and Clothing) as well as in the Austrian project EnzATex, both of which deal with the recycling of textiles.
Lenzing is also driving developments in the area of digitalization as part of cooperative projects. In 2022, the FFG-funded REWAI project (Reducing Energy and Waste using AI) started with Pro2Future, University of Linz and Graz University of Technology as partners. The aim is to develop a method for predicting fiber quality based on existing sensor data (over the entire production process). This is intended to identify necessary process changes at an early stage and avoid inferior quality.
In addition to cooperating on specific issues, Lenzing also engages in activities designed to raise awareness and give greater visibility to the topics of sustainability and the circular economy in particular. In 2022, young researcher scientists were honored for the first time with the Lenzing Young Scientist Award for excellent research work in the categories of fashion and the circular economy, textile recycling and the innovative use of bio-based fibers by the Lenzing Group. The goal was to support students and create a platform for networking with the textile industry. Bachelor’s and Master’s students presented their work to a jury of renowned industry experts. The three winning projects were awarded prize money of EUR 5,000 each at the 61st Global Fiber Conference in Dornbirn.
Firstly, membership and active participation in various initiatives and networks serves to position topics more broadly, especially in the area of sustainability, and to jointly drive them forward. Secondly, this approach often leads to specific projects such as the EPNOE (European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence) and the RCI (Renewable Carbon Initiative), where Lenzing is a founding member in each case.