10 Executive Summary
Textiles fibres are roughly divided into man-made (artificial/synthetic) and natural fibres (primarily wool and cotton). Man-made fibres are constantly gaining ground. In 2007 they accounted for roughly 65% of the total, up from about 62% in 2006. The production of natural fibres is, in fact, slowly declining. In 2007 it was at 25.6 million tons, down from 26.6 in 2006. The place of production of man-made fibres has dramatically shifted in the past 15-20 years. In 1990, Western Europe and USA, were responsible of some 40% of their production, while in 2007 they were down to 12%. China has been the big beneficiary of this shift, at the expenses not only of Western Europe and USA, but also of the other producers. Its slice, which was some 8.7% in 1990, in 2007 has climbed to 55,8%.
The textile/clothing has a relevant place in the industrial landscape world wide, both in terms of turnover and employment. The world textiles market is estimated to be at about US $ 4000 billion and the predictions indicate that it will rise to some US $ 5000 billion in 2012.
Even if in the last years its position has been strongly challenged, Europe still has an important role. According to the 2007 figures, the activity in EU-27 involves around 176,000 enterprises, gives employment to more than 2.4 million people, generates a turnover of some 211 billion and mobilises investments for about 5 billion. Its importance in terms of social, economic and cultural significance is relevant and it is further heighten by the large number of SMEs that characterize the sector in specific regions.
In 2001 (the latest available figures), with its 20% share of the world market, the EU has been the export leader of textile products, and, with 10%, the second largest for clothing. China is, respectively, the second and the first. Besides the EU and China, the other major players in the textile sector are South Korea (10%), Taiwan (10%), and USA (8%). An increasing role is taken by emerging countries, in particular India and Brazil.
The textiles products are usually segmented in accordance with their end market. Clothing textiles and home/furnishing textiles, with respectively 60% and 35% of the total market, still have the lion share. However, technical, non conventional textiles, now at around 5% (of this 5%, medical textiles are 0.75%; sports/outdoor textiles, 0.20%; military textiles, 0.15%) are expected to grow at high rate in the forthcoming future, progressively gaining larger room both in terms of volume and value.
The competition is growing and technological innovation is crucial to keep pace with it.
Among the members of the European textiles and clothing community it is generally recognised that traditional products are no longer sufficient to sustain a viable business, and the EU players, to compete effectively, have to move upward, to more innovative, high quality products.
The transformation of European industry from labour intensive into a knowledge-intensive one to produce high added value products, new manufacturing technologies, meet customer requirements, promote growth, environmental and health safeguard and other societal expectations, is fundamental to remain competitive on the world scene.
The European Technology Platform for the Future of Textiles and Clothing at 2020, presented in 2006, has defined a common vision built around 3 major long-term industrial trends that are expected to shape structure, activities and global competitive situation of the European Textile and Clothing industry over the coming years. These trends can be summarised as it follows:
- - development of new speciality fibres and fibre-composites (and environmental friendly processes) for innovative textile products, to move from commodities to specialties;
- - development of new textile products for innovative technical applications and "smart" textiles and clothing, to allow new applications;
- - implementation of new design and product development concepts, integrated quality and life cycle management, to attain customisation for clothing and fashion.
Nanotechnology can contribute to reach these goals for it can be used for natural as well as man made fibres and it has a say along the entire textiles pipeline.
The ability to manipulate individual atoms and arrange them in a desired structure and the peculiar behaviour and properties of the matter at nanoscale, can lead to the development of a new generation of products having new features, performances and functionalities, so enhancing the competitiveness of the innovative players and opening new markets.
Nanometric materials can be dispersed into the matrix of the fibres or deposited on their surface to give new nanocomposites with improved performances and characteristics. The spectrum of nanoparticles used for preparing nanocomposites is large. It spans from metal, such as silver (Ag), to metal oxides, such as titanium dioxide (TiO2), to carbon nanotubes (CNT), to clays. Wide is, therefore, the number of characteristics and performances that can be obtained with the addition of these nanoparticles.
Specific spinning processes, such as electrospinning, can be used to produce nanofibres, which can lead to non-woven fabrics with improved or new characteristics having multiple applications. Surface treatments at nanoscale, using both wet and gas phase processes, can bring about important advantages in the finishing step. All this can contribute to develop high performances and multi-functional textiles products which in turn make it possible specialisation, new applications, customisation.
Nanotechnology research in textiles is rather intense and is aiming at two main objectives.
The first one is the upgrading of both present functions and performance of textile materials. For example, fabrics prepared with fibres added with nanosize fillers (e.g. nano-particles, nano-powders, carbon nanotubes-CNTs) or having innovative finishing treatments, are characterised by, for example, enhanced strength and durability, flame resistance, self cleaning, variable chromatic behaviour, light protection, hydrophilic or hydrophobic properties, anti static features. These materials can be used for a large variety of applications that span from sportswear and fashionable apparel, to protective clothing, to packaging. Products with some of these features are already surfacing on the market.
The second objective addresses the development of innovative products, in particular smart/functional textiles with totally new features and functions. For example, energy generation, or controlled release, for example, of drugs or scents. Particular attention is getting the development of new smart/intelligent textiles, i.e. textiles with new functions through the integration of technology into a fabric which make them responsive to inputs, to show/modify specific properties, or with sensing and actuating capabilities. These products have a more distant commercialisation horizon, but the expectations on them are high to further expand textiles application. (Kaounides, 2007).
Textiles products incorporating nanotechnology are already on the market and they are mostly related to the conventional garment and furnishing industry. Nevertheless, looking to a medium-long term scenario, nanotechnology will find application in first place in sectors where performances out-weight costs. The most likely candidates are: sport/outdoor textiles, advanced/non conventional textiles, medical textiles, military textiles. Due to the increasing demand for high performances and multi-functional characteristics for industrial textiles, this sector is expected to absorb the lion share of the nano-related products. In the longer run nano-related products should expand also to more cost sensitive markets as a consequence of scientific advances and cost reductions.
In its "Nanotechnologies Opportunity Report", published in 2008, Cientifica, indicated that in 2007 nanotechnology related textiles accounted for a marked of US$13.6 billion. This market, according to Cientifica, is expected to grow to $115 billion by 2012. Other sources give more conservative figures, but, in any case, the expectations are high because nanotechnology can allow to go beyond simply adding new functionality to textiles, but it can change the way fashion designers and retailers are approaching their craft and business.
The promises of nanotechnology are high for the unique, specific behaviour and properties at nanoscale can lead to exceptional new products and more environmental friendly processes and several drivers are promoting its use in the textiles and clothing sector such as technology innovation, demand for advanced products, enhancement of competitive position. However, there are also barriers which can hamper their success such as the transfer of the scientific results from the lab to production, the existence of competing technologies, the lack (sometimes) of adequately skilled people, the possible hazards associated with the use of nanotechnology.
The latter is a particular important issue and the evaluation of the potential risks associated with nano-related textile products and processes along their entire lifecycle is a task of fundamental importance to be dealt with.
At present, there are not specific regulations for nanotechnology nor nanotechnology-related textiles products. Much of the concern is focused on "free" engineered nanomaterials and their effects on the environment, health and security (EHS). The European Commission also shows this, highlighting that, with the necessary adaptations for nanotechnologies, existing regulatory schemes can go some way in regulating the emerging field without constraining the growth too much. With this in mind, the focus is more on the improvement of instruments to ensure compliance with existing legislation.
The combination of existing regulations and voluntary measures, remaining vigilant and proactive to find appropriate and proportionate actions, can be accepted as transitory solution. However, the request for specific regulation for nano-technology related products is mounting and the initiatives in the textile sectors (as well as those in other sectors) will have to confront with the evolution on that matter.
Drivers and barriers have a different impact depending on the sector of application. The cost-benefit dilemma will always come into play. Which of two will prevail will determine the rate of success.
When we consider its positioning in the field of nanotechnology applied to textiles, it turns out that Europe is lagging behind its main competitors. This fact is highlighted also by the analysis to patents applications that shows that Europe is usually a follower when compared to countries such as USA and Japan. In Europe Germany is at fore front, followed by United Kingdom, France, Switzerland (not necessarily in that order) and then Italy and the Czech Republic. Particularly active have been in the last years China, and South Korea. In the case of nanoparticles China is leading the lot!
This situation could severely hamper the competitive position of the European players and a strong effort should be made to catch up with the above said competitors.
As mentioned above, the application of nanotechnology in textiles can take place along the entire textile pipeline and the report is segmented in four Sub Sectors which refer to it:
- Sub Sector 1: Nanomaterials and nanocomposites
In this section are examined the different types of nanomaterials that are currently used in textiles and the effects associated with them.
- Sub Sector 2: Fiber Production
Subject of the chapter are innovative technologies under investigation/use for obtaining nanofibers, with particular attention to electrospinning.
- Sub Sector 3: Finishing treatments
The physical and chemical treatments that are employed for the finishing of textiles to give them innovative structural and functional properties are the subjects of this chapter.
- Sub Sector 4: Nano-related textile products
In this section is presented the present situation of textiles products incorporating nanotechnology already available or under study and the possible future developments and trends.
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