Invista Launching Bio-Based Lycra

This fall, Invista will begin shipping a new version of Lycra made with a biologically based ingredient that will replace the petroleum-based chemical traditionally used to make Lycra.

Invista has been looking to replace some of the petroleum-based chemicals in Lycra with bio-based versions.

The bio-derived Lycra uses a chemical called BDO (butanediol) made from corn sugar instead of typical petroleum-based BDO. Because there are several chemical ingredients used to make spandex, Invista is describing the new fiber as “approximately 70 percent by weight” made from a renewable resource: dextrose from corn.

“The way we make Lycra fiber is a three-step process,” said Invista Executive Vice President of Technology and Marketing Bob Kirkwood. “We start with BDO, which is the original chemical that we and anyone in the spandex business starts with. [BDO] we turn into a chemical called PTMEG (polytetramethylene ether glycol). We combine that with a chemical called MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) to make spandex fiber.”

(Spandex is made from 70 percent PTMEG and 30 percent MDI.)

“We have been looking for bio-based forms of MDI, but there aren’t any on the market,” Kirkwood said.

The new bio-based Lycra has the same properties as traditional Lycra, Kirkwood said.

“We have made sample quantities of the fiber in our research and development lab, and all of the fiber we have made performs exactly like standard Lycra fiber,” he said. “It’s the same stretch and recovery properties, the same durability properties. Our belief is it will work exactly the same [as traditional Lycra] because the starting material has been made to the same specifications. It’s just made from a different source and made through a different route, but chemically these all look the same.”

Bio-based Lycra will be commercially available to mills by the third quarter of the year. Invista is anticipating high interest from activewear brands and denim makers.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if someone ends up combining this with a recycled polyester to make activewear garments,” Kirkwood said. “We also know there’s a lot of work on sustainability in denim through the use of organic cotton and the more environmentally friendly denim techniques.”

Because bio-Lycra performs like traditional Lycra, the new fiber could be combined with Lycra’s T-400 fiber to make Lycra DualFX, the high stretch-and-recovery fiber used by many premium-denim brands.

Invista has a sustainability program called Planet Agenda, which is dedicated to minimizing the company’s environmental footprint “by conserving resources, reducing emissions and eliminating waste at its manufacturing plants; offering competitive products that meet the needs of the apparel markets using fewer resources and to enhance the environmental performance of all fabrics; and protecting the health and safety of Invista workers and communities and participating in local stewardship initiatives.”

Kirkwood said Invista has been working on the bio-based Lycra for the last year.

“We’ve been working with some suppliers to look at how to develop these materials, and, when quantities became available, we said, ‘Let’s make a commercial fiber and see who’s going to be interested,’” he said. “Obviously, there are a lot of initiatives in the apparel industry around sustainability and around dyeing and finishing. We’re trying to address sustainability in our part of the apparel value chain.”

Mike Farid, president of Rancho Dominguez, Calif.–based Nature USA, has spent nearly two decades producing sustainable and eco-friendly apparel as a full-package manufacturer and founder of eco-friendly activewear line Bgreen.

Farid had not heard about the new bio-based Lycra but said it sounds promising—provided the price and the performance are in line.

“How is it going to dye? How is it going to perform?” he said. “On face value, if it is the same, then definitely there is a market for it and people would be interested.”