Polyamides, also known as nylons, are widely utilized in various industries such as textiles, automotive, food packaging, and electronics, owing to their strength, durability, and versatility.
However, the environmental impact of conventional synthetic polyamides has become a concern. Bio-based polyamides address this issue by providing a sustainable alternative that retains (or improves) the key performance advantages of traditional nylon.
In this post, we'll cover 10 bio-based options on the market for companies looking to integrate a more sustainable polyamide or nylon-based matrix material into their products.
Why Bio-based Polyamides?
Synthetic polyamides are high-performance materials that offer excellent technical and performance properties at a low cost. They are widely available for use in countless consumer and commercial product applications.
So why would a company even consider switching to a bio-based nylon alternative?
Let's start with the obvious reason: sustainability.
Most of us know that conventional synthetic polyamides, including the widely used PA66 and PA6, are produced exclusively from petrochemicals. So it comes as no surprise that, with over 7 million tons of nylon produced annually, fossil-based nylon production contributes significantly to global warming and associated environmental impacts. Additionally, nylon production requires a high amount of fossil energy, exacerbating the issue of fossil resource scarcity and rising costs.
Biobased polyamides, on the other hand, are fully or partially derived from renewable biomass and natural oils, such as castor bean oil.
By using renewable raw materials combined with other sustainable manufacturing practices, such as renewable energy, companies are able to realize a measurable reduction in their carbon footprints. In one recent example, Arkema was capable of reducing the carbon footprint of biobased Rilsan 11 by around 70% compared to traditional nylon production, achieving less than 2 kg CO2e/kg.
Further, with buyer preferences shifting towards more sustainable products, incorporating materials that minimize environmental impact is even more important for consumer-focused companies.
While sustainability is an obvious driver for companies to consider biobased nylons, many manufacturers don't realize that there may be substantial performance benefits to using renewable PAs as well.
For example, according to one study, in both pure form and as a matrix polymer with glass fibers, a novel 100% bio-polyamide achieved excellent melting temperature and equaled the mechanical strength of the conventional PA6 and PA66. It even outperformed the oil-based products by reducing the overall density by 6%.
Moreover, as this article points out, certain bio-polyamides, such as PA 4.10 (i.e. EcoPaXX from Envalior), have the advantage of blending short-chain elements for enhanced mechanical stability, along with long chain elements derived from castor plants resulting in lower moisture uptake and enhanced chemical resistance.
To summarize, bio-based nylons can be wholly or partially derived from renewable origins, offering a path to lowering a company's carbon footprint while meeting current consumer expectations for more sustainable products and materials.
Further, they exhibit excellent mechanical, thermal, and water absorption properties.
As a bonus, upstream suppliers are working to lower the renewable feedstock cost of producing these materials, making them cost-competitive with their synthetic counterparts.
Exploring current Biobased Nylon options on the market
It's clear there are more than a few compelling reasons for companies to look at biobased replacements to conventional nylons. However, the technology is still developing, and like other emerging biobased technologies, the market has been slow to scale.
Nevertheless, we've seen several promising and innovative commercial options arrive on the market over the last couple of years, including the following 10 products from global suppliers.
TERRYL®, a bio-based polyamide fiber brand by Cathay Biotech, is designed for the textile industry. Its bio-based content, verified by ASTM 6866 methodology in third-party labs, ranges from 45% to 100% renewable carbon content. In terms of functionality, Cathay promotes the spinning and finishing properties of TERRYL as offering advantages over traditional polyamides like PA6 or PA66. These include easy dyeing at lower temperatures, a soft and skin-friendly texture, effective moisture and sweat absorption, durability, weather resistance, and inherent flame retardant properties.
As mentioned, EcoPaXX from Envalior distinguishes itself by offering a balance between the properties of short and long-chain polyamides. It is particularly effective in reducing moisture uptake by 30% compared to PA66, while enhancing mechanical performance, making it a preferred choice in demanding environments and as a PA 66 performance booster. EcoPaXX PA 410 contains 72% bio-based content derived from castor plants.
VESTAMID® Terra from Evonik, encompassing PA 610 and 1010 grades, offers a diverse range of properties that bridge the gap in the polyamide spectrum. The PA 610 grade, with 62% bio-renewable content, boasts very high mechanical strength, excellent UV and chemical resistance, superior heat distortion resistance, and lower water absorption than standard short-chain polyamides. The PA 1010 grade is entirely bio-renewable, maintaining high mechanical strength and good UV and chemical resistance. It features low water absorption, ensuring minimal impact on mechanical properties due to atmospheric humidity, suitability for high temperatures, and notable translucency and transparency in thin-walled applications.
The Nymax™ BIO series from Avient offers an eco-friendlier alternative to traditional PA66 glass fiber-filled polyamides (PA). These advanced formulations are notable for their low water absorption and are engineered using up to 47% natural fillers derived from renewable sources like corn, straw, and wheat. This composition significantly lowers the carbon footprint at the start of the product lifecycle, enhancing the overall environmental impact. Performance-wise, Nymax BIO matches the prime PA66 glass fiber-filled materials, offering comparable durability, excellent surface appearance, improved colorability, and reduced warpage for industrial, automotive, construction, and textile applications.
Rilsan® Polyamide 11
Rilsan® Polyamide 11 from Arkema is the original biobased polyamide made from 100% renewable castor oil. It'as a trusted product for demanding applications due properties such as excellent chemical resistance, easy processing, high and low-temperature performance, dimensional stability, and low density. Rilsan® PA11 is used in various sectors worldwide, such as automotive, textile, oil & gas, and electronics.
EVO® by Fulgar is a high-tech yarn with 85% of its composition certified as bio-based according to Din Certco standards. EVO® boasts ultra-lightweight construction, paired with features like effective odor control, quick drying, thermal insulation, and superior compression and elasticity. These qualities make it an ideal biobased PA choice for high-performance garments where specific attributes are essential.
SENSIL® ByNature from NILIT is an innovative Nylon 6.6 material, distinct for its use of bio-based feedstock and substantial decrease in carbon emissions, saving approximately 1400 kg of CO2 equivalent per ton of fabric produced. Retaining the same qualities as conventional SENSIL® Nylon 6.6, it offers versatility and customization for various applications, including legwear, sportswear, and intimates. This sustainable method is underpinned by the Biomass Balance (BMB) approach, developed by BASF, which utilizes renewable resources like biogas from waste in early production stages.
Bio Amni from Solvay is a partially bio-based polyamide 5.6 designed to drive sustainability in the fashion industry, with applications including sportswear, underwear/lingerie, casual textiles, footwear, accessories, and more. Derived from sugarcane, Solvay touts numerous environmental benefits in promoting Bio Amni®, including reduced energy use and an overall lower carbon footprint. Additionally, the material exhibits unique performance properties, including better sweat absorption, faster drying, and enhanced breathability.
Stanyl® B-MB is available as a 100% bio-based high-temperature polyamide from Envalior. It is fully ISCC+ certified and offers the same characteristics, performance, and quality as conventional Stanyl®. The production of Stanyl® B-MB generates a carbon footprint up to 50% lower than the original, resulting in a 3.3-ton CO2 reduction per ton produced. This industry-first solution supports Envalior's 'Sustainable sourcing' pillar and sets a new standard for biomass-balanced solutions.
Enka® Nylon BIO
Enka® Nylon BIO from Indorama is another PA 4.10 that serves as an efficient bio-based alternative to fossil-based yarns like PA 6.6. This polymer matches the melting and glass transition temperatures of PA 6.6 but has a lower density and moisture absorption, plus a 40% higher tensile modulus in humidity. It is 70% bio-based with a near-zero CO2 emission balance. Industrially spun, it displays tensile properties similar to PA 6.6, with better elongation at break, slightly lower breaking force, and comparable fatigue resistance in rubber applications.
The development of biobased polyamides is a crucial step towards a more sustainable future. By offering a viable alternative to traditional synthetic nylons, these materials not only address environmental concerns but also open new possibilities in various applications. As the industry continues to innovate, biobased polyamides are set to play an increasingly important role in balancing ecological responsibility with material performance.