Aquafil, a nylon yarn producer based in Italy, has partnered with Genomatica, a bioengineering firm, to develop a “bio-nylon” via plant-based renewable ingredients as a substitute for crude oil-derived materials.

The companies’ multiyear agreement is centered on the development of bio-based caprolactam, a primary ingredient in the production of 100 percent sustainable nylon. Traditionally, crude oil-derived materials are used in the nylon industry, according to the firm — but through Genomatica’s Geno CPL process, there lies an opportunity to develop an economic, sustainable method for manufacturing caprolactam for large and small plants, that will not require machine or process adjustments by the nylon supply chain, the company said.

Caprolactam is used in a range of nylon-based products from carpets to apparel, amounting to over 5 million tons per year in the global market. Together, the companies invite businesses to join Genomatica’s bio-nylon program — which is focused on the development of sustainable products in textiles — for access to its technologies and supply of bio-based chemicals for industry players such as chemical producers, product makers, agriculture companies and companies throughout the supply chain.

“I always like to say that when I see a landfill I see a goldmine,” Giulio Bonazzi, chairman and chief executive officer of Aquafil, told WWD. “One of my dreams is that the consumer [will] buy a product with the end [of its life cycle] in mind.” Bonazzi added that Aquafil selected Genomatica as a partner because of the company’s disposition and its specialty in bioengineering. “The partnership with Genomatica is an incredible project that is underway and we are all very excited,” he said.

Aquafil launched its Econyl Regeneration System in 2011, which enables the production of nylon from 100 percent regenerated waste. Econyl is incorporated into collections from over 200 companies across sportswear, fashion, luxury and carpet brands, such as Stella McCartney, Gucci, Volcom, Adidas and Levis. The company said that similar to the Econyl process, Genomatica’s Geno CPL process “eliminates the significant amount of by-products common to most crude oil-derived caprolactam production, and will allow producers to diversify their sources in terms of raw material.”

Bonazzi said that “As proven by the success of Econyl, consumers and manufacturers look forward to opportunities to play an active role in the circular economy. We aim to be a leader of sustainability for nylon, and we are excited by the opportunity to be the first to bring the benefits of this new technology to our customers, which is perfectly in line with our commitment to creating sustainable products. Genomatica brings the technology, innovation and track record to help us achieve this.”

Christophe Schilling, chief executive officer of Genomatica, said that “Visionary companies like Aquafil are delighting customers and gaining market share through more sustainable products. This is another example of Genomatica applying the power of biology to rethink how widely used chemicals can be made a better way. Just as we’ve surpassed key milestones for our commercial Geno BDO process and were named winner of the ICIS Innovation Award for our new naturally sourced butylene glycol, we now aim to bring biotechnology innovation to enable better nylon products.”

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