Circulose recycled from denim

Recycling Clothes at an Industrial Scale

Renewcell

6. Clean Water and Sanitation 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 13. Climate Action

Overview

Currently, Renewcell has a pilot scale production site in Kristinehamn, Sweden. The Kristinehamn plant is able to produce 4 500 tonnes of Circulose® dissolving pulp annually. Renewcell is currently expanding production with an industrial scale plant in Sundsvall, capable of producing 60 000 tonnes annually. The plant is being built in a brownfield site and will utilize a lot of the same infrastructure and equipment that was in use at the mill earlier located in the site.

Authors

arianna confalonieri

arianna confalonieri

Emma Kärkkäinen

Emma Kärkkäinen

Leenah Gilmour-Exarhos

Leenah Gilmour-Exarhos

Gabriel Kieto Mahaniah

Gabriel Kieto Mahaniah

School

Hanken School of Economics

Hanken School of Economics

Professor

Jouni Virtaharju

Jouni Virtaharju

Innovation

In the Circulose® process, pre- and post-consumer textile waste is shredded, after which buttons etc. are removed. The fibers are then turned into a slurry, from which non-cellulosic materials are removed. After the slurry is dried, the Circulose® sheets are obtained. Circulose® is fully comparable to dissolving pulp made with virgin materials, thus omitting the need for investments into more production equipment at the textile manufacturers’ sites. Circulose® can then be sent on to further processing, e.g. to textile manufacturers.

The process of making Circulose® contributes towards several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including clean water and sanitation due to the fact their process consumes less water and chemicals than traditional alternatives. Decent work and economic growth as well as industry, innovation and infrastructure are also closely related, as Renewcell is industrializing an innovative recycling process and providing work for many. Responsible consumption and production, as well as climate action are also related, as addressed in the later chapters.

Recycling Clothes at an Industrial Scale

Inspiration

The global textile waste problem is what first inspired the Circulose® innovation. The story starts with Malcolm Norlin, who had been active in the pulp and paper industry as the managing director of a Swedish pulp mill. He, along with other investors, purchased and transformed the mill into a dissolving pulp mill, which was eventually sold to a viscose fiber producer in 2011. Malcolm began to think about the large amounts of cotton wasted annually and “had been in touch with the industry about their growing sustainability problems”. Malcolm then met with Johan Sundblad, who had been working closely with fashion brands and understood the sustainability problem they were faced with. There was a desire to transform textile waste into clothing but “the problem has been, of course, the lack of quality from recycled materials”. Harald, describing the opportunity that Malcolm and Johan saw said, “there’s cellulose in cotton, there’s a lot of cotton waste and there’s a lot of demand for cellulose-based fibers. There should be a way to put those two together”. They had the inspiration, but lacked the technology necessary to make it happen, which is where Professors Mikael Lindström and Gunnar Henriksson from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm entered the story. They had been working on another process and realized that it could be used to produce dissolving pulp from textiles. Together, along with Dr. Christofer Lindgren, they started Renewcell in 2012 and began developing the Circulose® process on the Royal Institute of Technology campus.

Overall impact

Renewcell’s process transforms textile waste into a reusable material, something that had long been desired in the fashion industry. As clothing consumers and manufacturers are interested in the innovation, the company has implemented an ingredient branding marketing strategy. This, in the short term, gives added value to these pieces of clothing and can certify the material used. In the near future, Renewcell hopes to reduce the road transportation needed to source their materials by having a container terminal very close to their Sundvall’s factory’s gates.

“Designing an industrial scale process for textile recycling” has been Renewcell’s mission from the beginning. Long-term, the company hopes that their commitment to circularity will inspire an industrial evolution with more sustainable processes and products. There have been many industrial investments in Northern Sweden, including Renewcell’s Sundsvall plant, that are moving towards more environmentally friendly practices. Renewcell hopes that with their Circulose® innovation, they will become the best dissolving pulp producer in the world.

Business benefit

In Q2 of 2021, Renewcell reported that they had an average of 44 employees. Renewcell is still in the pre-revenue phase and went public on the stock market in November 2020. As of the end of June 2021, there were 30,799,426 shares. They have no immediate plans to create a new product or service besides Circulose® and will focus on producing dissolving pulp.

In 2022, Renewcell will begin producing Circulose® at their new plant in Sundvall, Sweden at the site of SCA Ortviken’s paper mill. By using existing infrastructure, Renewcell is demonstrating circularity in the industrial setting. The expansion to Ortviken has required an increase in personnel and facility/equipment expenses. It is estimated that the investment is 870 million Swedish Krona (roughly 87 million Euros). After the startup of their new plant, their production capacity will increase significantly, impacting their medium and long-term financial goals.

They are also looking at the possibility of someday expanding operations to other areas, such as Asia, which could allow for material transportation to be reduced. If the company opens new plants in the future, it will be important to Renewcell that they are run on renewable energy, just like their Swedish ones are.

Social and environmental benefit

The CO2 footprint of Circulose® was calculated to be negative 2 kilograms of CO2 equivalents per kilogram of produced fibers. The result was obtained in an external life cycle assessment study entitled “Life Cycle Assessment Comparing Ten Sources of Manmade Cellulose Fiber” by SCS Consulting, which included aspects such as biogenic carbon storage and ecosystem impacts. Traditional textile production is also highly water-intensive, and returning recycled textile materials into the production loop prevents a large amount of textiles from ending up in landfills or incineration. Circulose® thus enables sustainable production for many fashion and textile industry brands and gives consumers access to more sustainable purchases.

The pre-consumer waste used as a raw material is obtained directly from various production sites. The post-consumer materials are sourced from global textile waste collecting partners, who sort the best textiles into reuse and send non-reusable ones to Renewcell for recycling. In the future, Renewcell is hoping to be able to redirect the textile post-consumer waste from Europe to their production sites already before final sorting, which can currently be performed outside of Europe.

Renewcell is hiring people from the Sundsvall area into sustainable jobs at their new Ortviken plant. In addition to positive local impacts, Renewcell’s Circulose® innovation has a true chance for a large worldwide impact, as the process is very scalable. Textile waste resources are available in huge amounts globally, and as textiles made with Circulose® can be recycled again and again, the overall prospects of the innovation look very promising.

Interview

Harald Cavalli-Björkman, Chief Growth Officer

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Renewcell

Renewcell

SE

Business Website: https://www.renewcell.com/en/

Year Founded: 2012

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

Renewcell AB is a public fiber industry company headquartered in Stockholm that has created a unique recycling process for textile fibers. Their patented process and Circulose® branded dissolving pulp make it possible to close the gap in cellulosic textile recycling. Instead of using virgin materials, such as cotton or wood, Renewcell sources pre- and post-consumer textile waste from around the world and processes it into dissolving pulp, which can then be used as raw material in various textile fibers such as viscose or lyocell. By recycling existing textiles instead of cutting down trees, running their plant on 100% renewable energy, and reducing the amount of water and chemicals used, Renewcell is able to work towards a more sustainable textile industry and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.