In January 2020, the company signed a collaboration agreement with Grasim Industries Ltd (NSE:GRASIM) (BOM:500300), a company belonging to global conglomerate, Aditya Birla Group, one of the world’s largest rayon fibre producers.
Rayon, which includes a range of well-known fabrics such as viscose, modal and lyocell, is made from cellulose, a natural polymer found in plants and the main component of cotton and linen.
Current rayon production relies entirely on cellulose extracted from plants, predominantly trees.
Nanollose executive chairman Dr Wayne Best said “The company’s unique advantage is that it can produce a superior and more eco-friendly rayon fibre using cellulose that doesn’t come from extracting trees or any other plant.
“Instead, Nanollose produces a purer and stronger form of cellulose from waste by a natural fermentation process.
Dr Best said: “We’ve called our rayon fibre nullarbor, both as a homage to our Australian origin and because the name comes from the Latin ‘nulla arbor’ meaning no tree – and this is what our fibres are all about.”
Market demand increasing
Dr Best said that the fashion industry was desperately seeking new innovative solutions to meet the market’s growth and the increasing demands from consumers and regulators for more environmentally friendly and sustainable textiles.
He said: “Currently, 66% of the textile market is synthetic fibres made from petrochemicals, which are facing increased pressure due to their lack of biodegradability and accumulation in the environment.”
“Cotton accounts for 27% of the market and is a natural biodegradable fibre made of cellulose, however, its production requires significant amounts of agricultural land and water, which raises environmental concerns and limits options to increase production to meet market demands.”
“The remaining 6% of the market is comprised of rayon which is dependent on trees, so the extraction process, and concerns around deforestation and illegal logging have also raised environmental concerns.”
Nanollose’s Tree-Free rayon fibre nullarbor has the potential to address many of the environmental concerns associated with other fibres and offer the fashion industry a unique eco-friendly solution.
The market size of rayon is projected to be about US$21 billion by 2024.
In addition to its use in the fashion industry, rayon is widely used in several nonwoven applications such as personal wipes.
In August 2019 Nanollose signed a cooperation agreement with the Codi Group, to develop nufolium nonwoven fibre for the wipes market.
Codi is a global leader in the development, manufacturing and marketing of high-quality personal care wipes, and a leader in environmental sustainability.
Scaling up in 2021
In January, Nanollose took a major step towards commercialisation when it signed a collaboration agreement with Grasim, but unfortunately the project had to be temporarily suspended due to shutdowns in India caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it recommenced at an accelerated pace in September 2020.
The chairman said: “Following some initial laboratory studies, work is now progressing towards our first pilot scale production run with Grasim.”
“This is an exciting time for Nanollose as Grasim’s pilot capacity is significantly larger than our previous contractor in Scandinavia.”
“Grasim can easily produce hundreds of kilograms of fibre in a single pilot run, enough to provide Nanollose with a range of fabric samples and enable more detailed commercial discussions with fashion brands.”
“We know they love the nullarbor story, but they still need to feel the fabric in its various finished forms before they’ll commit to buying it.”
Dr Best said he was confident that the “stars are aligning” for 2021 to be the big breakout year for the company.
He said: “We have a unique technology capable of making a superior eco-friendly fibre and now we’re working with one of the world’s largest rayon manufacturers to scale-up the process and commercialise it.”
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing the first commercial garment made from our nullarbor fibre in 2021.”
Other cellulose markets
While Nanollose’s primary focus is on commercialising its Tree-Free rayon fibres nullarbor and nufolium, its high purity fermented cellulose has a range of other applications including filtration.
Nanollose recently acquired a 20% stake in CelluAir Pty Ltd, a spin-out from Queensland University of Technology developing an Advanced Filtration Technology based on nano-cellulose, a material closely related to Nanollose’s fermented cellulose.
CelluAir is focusing their filtration technology towards the rapidly growing face mask market, though its application is broader than that.
Acquiring a stake in CelluAir with its synergistic technology allows Nanollose to pursue this attractive opportunity without having to divert focus from the commercialisation of its Tree-Free rayon fibres.