FTC recognizes new fiber category

Carole Sloan, Staff Staff, February 4, 2002

The Federal Trade Commission has designated a new generic fiber category, PLA, that includes NatureWorks, the Cargill Dow trade name.

PLA, explained Andy Shafer, Cargill Dow's commercial director for fibers, is polylactide, derived from carbons stored in plant starches like corn.

Cargill Dow launched market-ready fabrics and floor coverings at NeoCon last summer and will soon launch a collection of comforters and bed pillows through Pacific Coast Feather using NatureWorks fibers.

PLA is the first new broad generic fiber designation in decades, said Shafer, who cited spandex as the next most recent example. Other niche fiber generics, such as elastoester and lyocel, were designated in the 1990s, he added.

The PLA designation requires "a fiber to be a synthetic manufactured from polylactic acid or poly lactate derived from naturally occurring sugars such as used in corn or sugar beets," Shafer related.

Product development for NatureWorks covers a broad area, Shafer reported, with developmental work proceeding in mattress tickings and fiberfill for mattresses as well as non-woven applications and apparel such as outerwear, fleece and knits.

The advantage properties vary from product to product but include "fantastic loft and resilience, wicking, moisture transport and drapability, UV [ultraviolet] stability and flame resistance," he said.

Cargill Dow recently completed a PLA manufacturing facility in Blair, NE, which has a 300-million-pound capacity per year. Fiber Innovation Technologies of Johnson City, TN; Unifi of Greensboro, NC; and Parkdale, of Gastonia, NC, are producing the staple, filament and spun fibers, respectively.

Typically, Shafer said, it takes three to six months to get a facility up and running, but the Blair facility began in November 2001 and started producing in December for "some of our grades." Fiber production, he said, is targeted for 30 days to 60 days.

The designation of a new generic fiber "will pave the way for new applications and successful entry into many areas of the fibers and textiles markets," Shafer related. "It also will encourage others to follow in our lead in creating more sustainable and environmentally responsible textiles."

To receive the new generic classification, Cargill Dow had to show properties and chemical composition that is radically different from other fibers; what commercial use is foreseen; and that the raw generic is of importance to the public.

"With NatureWorks, we have taken the best performance attributes of a natural and a synthetic and delivered a new fiber derived from renewable resources," Shafer added. "NatureWorks provides performance and value."

The fabrics and floor coverings were introduced through Interface Fabrics Group and Interface Flooring Systems, both targeted to the contract market.

Cargill Dow is a joint venture between Cargill Inc., the commodity grain processor, and Dow Chemical. The company said there are no machine modifications needed for either filament or staple fibers.

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