When Anna-Stiina Jääskeläinen talks about her work, it’s easy to see that she’s genuinely excited about it.
“Cellulose has a crucial role in replacing raw materials that are based on fossil carbon. This puts cellulosic fiber applications right at the heart of circular economy. There are pressing sustainability challenges in the textile industry, and it’s thrilling to be able to take part in developing the solutions!”
Building on the long history with the chemical applications in the pulp and paper industry, Kemira has the right know-how on cellulose-based products and processes to support the emerging cellulosic textiles industry. Anna-Stiina engaged with the topic when she joined Kemira almost 5 years ago, first in the R&D department. Today she is responsible for global business creation in textile fibers, working as Sr Manager in the Growth Accelerator unit, which focuses on speeding up Kemira’s selected strategic initiatives, such as cellulosic textiles.
Kemira has the right know-how on cellulose-based products and processes to support the emerging cellulosic textiles industry.
The chemical solutions that are needed in the manufacture of cellulosic textile fibers are very similar to those of papermaking. The production typically requires both process and functional chemistries, which ensure certain properties, such as durability and hydrophobicity, for the textile fibers and help run the process efficiently, saving e.g. water and energy.
“We can utilize and expand our chemistry expertise in new areas.”
Renewable and circular textiles
The interest toward cellulose-based fibers has increased exponentially at the same time as the environmental impacts of the textile industry have gotten both consumers and legislators more and more concerned. The renewable raw material is a more sustainable alternative to e.g., the most commonly used polyester and other synthetic fibers, which are based on fossil carbon and sources of microplastics, or cotton, which consumes a lot of fresh water and soil when farmed.
“We’re already collaborating with several companies in this field to help them scale up their technologies but also to develop our chemistry further for the needs of the transforming industry,” Anna-Stiina describes.
In addition to transitioning to renewable raw material resources, the textile industry is also looking for ways to transition from linear to circular. It has been estimated that globally, only 1% of the raw materials that are used to manufacture clothing are being recycled into new clothing. In the EU countries, separate collection for textiles will be required from the beginning of 2025.
“We know fiber-to-fiber recycling from the paper and board processes. I hope textile recycling will become a similar success story as paper recycling, where most of the paper and board consumed is today also recycled, at least on the European level.”
Textiles are not monomaterials, which means that the recycling process is much more complex. “Our chemical expertise can play a role in chemical textile recycling processes. The focus is on finding solutions that help utilize the recycled raw material in new textiles or other high value end uses.”
Expertise for compliance and safe end-products
“Chemistry does have a bad reputation as a pollutant in the textile industry due to the hazardous chemicals previously used and the insufficient legislation and control in the mass-producing, developing countries,” Anna-Stiina acknowledges. “But without chemistry, the new cellulosic textile applications would not be possible. It is the needed enabler for cellulose-based products.”
Compliant and safe chemicals enable compliant and safe textiles.
One of her favorite topics to talk about is compliance and safety of both the chemicals and the end-products. “This is an essential part of the sustainability of the end-product. Even biobased raw materials are not a guarantee of safety by default, not in our customers’ products nor in our chemicals. The safety assessment is still crucial,” she stresses.
There are base-level regulatory requirements for the manufacture, supply, and use of chemical products, which is a crucial part of Kemira’s day-to-day work as a chemical supplier. In Europe, compliance with REACH (European Union chemical legislation) is paramount. In addition, there are application-specific regulations and requirements that consider chemicals in the intended end use, in this case, clothing or other textile products.
“We have an excellent PSRA (Product Stewardship and Regulatory Affairs) organization who are the experts in ensuring the compliance and safety of our products. Our customers are responsible for evaluating their production processes and conducting the relevant tests to the finished product, and for many of the new companies in this field, this is unfamiliar territory. With our broad know-how, we can support the cellulosic textile fiber manufacturers in this area and help them stay prepared for future requirements.”
Making an industrial impact
Prior to joining Kemira, Anna-Stiina had a substantial career in research and academia, e.g., with Aalto University and VTT, Technical Research Centre of Finland, focusing on topics like wood chemistry, biorefining, pulping and bleaching, and the utilization of lignin and other industrial side streams.
“I must admit, I’m still amazed about the pulp manufacturing process. These large-scale processes can today produce millions of tons of pulp in closed chemical and water loops. And the basic principle itself has not changed in decades, it just has developed to be more efficient and environmentally more benign over time. I believe that the textile industry will face a similar transformation in the future, and we at Kemira have right expertise to support that development.”
“One of the reasons why I joined Kemira was a desire to be closer to where research has its true industrial impact. You get to make a difference by being a part of the value chain that is developing new, more sustainable solutions to replace existing ones. It’s really rewarding!”