Teijin Aramid is a Netherlands-based manufacturer of high-performance fibers, which are used in applications in automotive, telecoms, aerospace and ballistic protection. As one of the leading companies in their field, it is not surprising that they too are making the shift to a more sustainable and eco-friendly methods. In a recent press release, they announced their plans to shift to a ‘Circular Economy’ and beckoned to other companies to join them in doing the same.
At Milipol Paris 2021, BodyArmorNews.com had the opportunity to interview two representatives from Teijin Aramid and learn more about their circularity goals. Mr. Philip Altena, the Global Manager of Circular Business and Mr. Bernd Steinmann, Regional Sales President of the EMEA sales office spoke of these goals and how Teijin Aramid plans to achieve them.
The main products that Teijin Aramid manufactures, and sells are para-aramids – Twaron and Technora – which are typically used as a very strong fire-retardant material. Their applications lie not only in ballistic vests, but also in mooring lines, optical fiber cables and tires for cars. The product is up to 7 times stronger than steel, and ultra-lightweight .
“The para-aramid is involved in the manufacture of ballistic vests,” Mr. Steinmann explained, “That’s our main product, then we have meta-aramid, which has textile properties, and is a more bendable flame-retardant material that we typically use in firefighting suits.
“Then, we have polyethylene, which is a material that is very strong, but not flame-retardant. it is used in protective suits for medical and chemical hazards. As well as for strength in helmets or insert plates that go into body armor.”
A zero-waste strategy
A huge part of Teijin Aramid’s Circular Economy program is their attention to recycling.
“We have a plant where we make polymer from two monomers,” Mr. Altena said, “Polymers is the basis for yarn spinning and we recycle all the materials we use in the process. That can, for example, be water, or sulfuric acid. It can be all kinds of products that we need in order to make the yarn.
“Next to that, there is always waste related to production of the material as well as aramid waste. We reuse everything. That makes the footprint much lower than it was 10 years ago.”
Renewable energy alternatives
Another step towards sustainability can be seen in Teijin Aramid’s shift to renewable electricity for all their production sites in the Netherlands by using Guarantees of origin of EU Wind. Using this lowers the carbon footprint of Twaron. Mr. Altena added that Teijin Aramid expects to reduce it even further by using renewable energy for a part of their steam consumption.
According to Mr. Altena, the company aims to become completely carbon neutral by 2050. However, he added that things are accelerating, and it is entirely possible that they may reach this goal earlier than expected.
How does it work?
Mr. Steinmann elaborated on the logistics of the company’s recycling program. “Let’s say a customer of ours, or a customer of a customer (which can often be the case) wants to get rid of their old vests. They get in touch with us through our salespeople all over the world or through the website. We understand what the amount and quality is to be recycled and set a price. We buy the material back and then we arrange the recycling.”
“In the end,” Mr. Altena added, “the supply chain must understand that there is profit in there for everybody. We call it building sustainable value chain alliances, where we make agreements considering what we take back, what is the price, how much do we get, etc.”
“To make it more visible,” Mr. Steinmann explained, “if you have an old ballistic vest, we get it back, we rework it and we reuse the material in there. At the end of the day, it may be a brake pad in a car. That is happening today. It’s not the future, it is happening today. It’s a big advantage from a sustainability point of view.”
Planning for the future
As mentioned in their press release, Teijin Aramid looks forward to forming new alliances which those who share their goal of making a circular economy.
“It can start anywhere,” Mr. Altena said, “It can start with a weaver, it can start with an end user. This morning we had a presentation and there we had a retired colonel from the Dutch army. He explained how he is working with us to get the materials back and give it a second life. So that’s the beginning of an alliance.
“These alliances need to grow,” Mr. Altena continued, “The technologies need to come to reality. We also want to build regional hubs, where we have agreements with local cleaning companies that can do the pre-cleaning for us.”
Creating a circular economy
As one of the biggest aramid suppliers in the world, Teijin Aramid feels a responsibility to try and guide the industry towards a sustainable future. Mr. Steinmann explained that this is for two reasons.
“Firstly, we intrinsically care about this planet. We know that if we don’t act, everybody will lose. Secondly, there is also good business in doing good things. So, we have a strong willing ness to do it but there is also a strong business drive behind it.
“If we can do this in a good way, we as the world leader in aramids will be able to get the value chain to build a business model that everybody wins from: the planet as well as the people involved. It has an ecological advantage and an economical advantage.
A call to action
As a final takeaway, Mr. Altena and Mr. Steinmann wished to make it clear that the process cannot begin if they do not get the material back from customers. This is, after all, the first step towards a more sustainable future.
“Since we are the largest in the word, we can make an impact,” Mr. Steinmann continued, “We cannot do it by ourselves, but we have a big stone to throw in the pond. We hope that our partners and our competitors will throw a stone in as well.”