VIRTUAL RALEIGH – There were three extremely strong contenders for INDA’s 2020 RISE conference Innovation Award.

Nominees MAS Holdings and BlueCON Nonwoven both impressed with their respective developments of five-layer absorbent nursing pads for expectant mothers and resin recycling programme for hospital waste.

Given the immediate impact it’s already had in the year of Covid-19, however, there could really only be one winner – the new bicomponent spunbond material that can serve as an effective N95 filter – without the need for a meltblown filtration layer – created at the Nonwovens Institute (NWI) at North Carolina State University.

The 10th edition of RISE – Research, Innovation and Science for Engineered Fabrics – was initially planned to be held at North Carolina State in cooperation with the NWI, which has been a hot bed of activity since the coronavirus first emerged in the USA back in March. In the end the event was held virtually from September 29th to October 1st.

The focus of RISE is on technologies and products addressing future needs and market opportunities in material science, forward-looking research in sustainability, and critical shifts in nonwovens growth.

Rather than looking to the future, however, the NWI’s development was a response to an immediate and pressing need, in the year that shortages have resulted in meltblown nonwovens being referred to as “the Golden Fleece of Fabrics” and becoming the source of fierce international trade disputes.

NWI executive director Benham Pourdeyhimi explained that the filter media development arose from reactivated work on microfibrillation which was initially undertaken for the filter industry.

N95 efficiency can be achieved with just a two-layer spunbond fabric and there are a number of other benefits. A combination of one spunbond layer and a meltblown layer can further achieve N99 efficiency.

The media requires no electrostatic charging, which has been another bottleneck in the production of facemasks. Because these materials are strong, unlike classical meltblown filters, they can also be cut and sewn by traditional techniques and have the potential to be re-used a number of times after cleaning with peroxide, or potentially alcohol solution.

In terms of productivity, spunbonding is also much faster than meltblowing. On the latest state-of-the-art Reicofil 5 lines, for example, throughput for spunbond fabrics is now up to 270 kg per metre of beam width compared to 70 kg per metre width for meltblown.

Around 4.5 million metres of the NWI material have so far been produced on NWI’s pilot lines and at the plants of key partner companies – sufficient for 100 million masks.

It can be based on bicomponents of Ingeo PLA biopolymer and polypropylene and NatureWorks has been an active partner in the development. Ingeo improves the productivity of the spunbond process by at least 30%. Another partner has been ExxonMobil, which has donated the PP resin.

“This award goes to the staff at NWI who have been working tirelessly around the clock to to meet the demand for face mask materials,” Benham said, on virtually receiving the award. “They are the real heroes.”

He dedicated his own work to his brother, Farokh, who sadly lost his life to coronavirus on September 9th this year. All at Sustainable Nonwovens send condolences to Benham and his family for their tragic loss.

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