A world without PFCs: Dream or reality?

Perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, have been used for decades in many products, including to produce stain-resistant and water-repellent fabrics. They offer the advantage of covering the performance required in nearly every outdoor and protective material.
This “one size fits all” profile explains why PFCs have become the go-to technology to finishing textiles today.

In parallel, there are exciting things happening in the field of fabric repellent technology, with huge technological strides being made.
PFCs offered today by fore-runners, such as Archroma with its short-chain C6 Nuva® N range, have been developed to eliminate PFOA, a manufacturing by-product undesirable for its potential persistence in the environment. And the chemical industry introduced the first fluorine-free repellence finishing agents, such as Archroma’s Smartrepel®.

Maybe it’s time we step back and assess this landscape objectively, with the aim of producing better end results for all. Is eliminating PFCs altogether really a reachable goal?

Fluorine-free finishes for all: Still a dream?

While there is much focus today on developing fluorine-free chemistry, there is still a long way to go before such solutions can equal the performance of fluorine-based C6 chemistry. Fluorine-free solutions have made tremendous progress for water repellency.
They are however not suitable for oil and dirt release and repellency – yet.

No matter what chemistry is being applied, it’s vital that we aim to lower the environmental impact of all chemicals used in our industry.

That’s why Archroma continuously invest to accompany the market with the right technology, the technology that is “fit for purpose”.

A reality achievable now: From “one size fits all” to “fit for purpose” sustainable approach

It’s time that brands look more closely at each product’s likely end use and life cycle, and critically assess its true performance requirements. Clearly, there is room to challenge the “one size fits all” approach to applying PFC finishes to all textiles.

What does that mean? Well, we should consider a given garment and ask, for example, “Do I really need that outdoor jacket to offer the same water-proof or mud-proof finish as the tent I use to go camping?”
Medical wear and other workwear – used to protect the user from potentially dangerous spills or from being soaked under heavy rain –  are likely to require high levels of repellence, and be subject to frequent washing. But a lesser-used or more casual garment is unlikely to be subjected to similar cleaning procedures – and hence could meet all its performance needs without requiring such a demanding repellent finish as PFCs.

There is room in textile finishing for the wider use of more sustainable fluorine-free finishing solutions. It’s time we opt for a more sustainable “fit for purpose” approach.

Pursuing the dream

We all need to take steps not to “over-engineer” our textiles for given applications, and to focus on minimizing our generation of waste. At the same time, modern textiles are such complex composites that every small change can greatly impact both processability and final performance. This will continue to require significant research, many trials and endless formula adaptations to yield products that are acceptable in today’s textile market.

Where some see insurmountable obstacles, I see opportunities to differentiate our products, in terms of performance, look, feel, pricing and more. Archroma’s R&D pipeline is packed with many new ideas that address all these factors.

Personally, I see these advances in chemistry as just one of the factors moving our world in a better direction.

It is difficult to foresee if there will ever be a technology that completely replaces the existing platform. But through innovation, perseverance and a commitment to a cleaner environment, the textiles industry can make huge strides toward achieving the goals we all desire.

What do you think? Is a world without PFCs a dream or reality?

 

– Jochen

Jochen Schmidt

Jochen Schmidt began his career in the textile industry in the carpet sector, where he spent several years specializing in textile finishing with a focus on textile coating. After completing his studies, in 1993 Jochen joined Sandoz AG in Basel, Switzerland, as a textile engineer. As part of the R&D team he was responsible for the screening of research products up to the first field tests. Jochen later moved into the global service area and became Head of the Customer Service Department, overseeing techni cal support in the field of classical finishing. At the end of 2004 Jochen headed Clariant’s technical textiles division in Frankfurt, which was later integrated into Clariant’s global application center in Reinach (Switzerland). From 2008, he headed the Functional Effects Business Line for textiles with responsibility for classical finishing (the apparel sector) and technical textiles. In August 2011, he was appointed Head of Technical Service EMEA, Business Unit Textile Chemicals , being responsible for pre-treatment, dyeing auxiliaries and finishing including technical textiles. Jochen Schmidt joined Archroma with the business transferred from Clariant in September 2013. He was appointed to his current role as Global Product Marketing Manager, Finishing Chemicals, Brand & Performance Textile Specialties in August 2015. Jochen Schmidt holds a chemical engineer degree (Krefeld/Germany), is married and has two kids. He is born on January 1, 1965 in Duesseldorf, Germany.

Opinion pieces are written by our employees sharing their view on a given topic.

Comments (17)

  1. Hi, Very good article , Specially adressing the role of PFCS,Now a day big buyers have lot of concerns to use PFOS and PFOA values in their madeups .For future we all look fwd to adopt formulation to get same effects without FC.

  2. Agree totally with the ‘fit-for-purpose’ Approach to textile finishing, avoiding over-engineering or over-processing, which unnecessarily harms our Environment.

    Good Article!

  3. I like in particular the challenge of “Fit for purpose”. If we all take abit time to think and decide of the real use and need, it will help to customizes and simplify further.

  4. Hi Jochen
    Very nice stand point and overall scenario of PFCS Free is dream! Well done and we have to much more communicative with customer as well
    Wishing you very good luck!

  5. Thank you for posting this.

    It presents a nice set of ideas, but lacks any specific examples, which might help to illustrate the authors view more fully. It is clear that the environmental drive behind elimination of PFC’s is the right direction for us all. However, it does mean that the industry is challenged with finding ways to optimise around an inferior technical performance level. I would argue a different view, that WR and stain repellent coatings have been seen as essential additional to fabrics products, and actually perform a range of functions,in addition to simple water repellency, e.g. limiting weight gain through water pick up and protecting the “breathability” of the article. In general the durability of PFC coatings was generally pretty low even for the best applications. In this sense I’m not in agreement that many products were over engineered on WR performance.

    I would be very interested to understand the range of technologies that you believe are suitable substitutes, particularly for cotton products and how you have tested these as being fit for purpose.

    1. Hello and thanks for your comments. We have supported several brands and textile manufacturers in the outdoor sector to transition to fluorine-free solutions, especially on polyester and polyamide fabrics, the preferred fabrics in that sector. And be able to meet the outdoor industry’s high performance requirements – not only in terms of water repellence, but also hand feel and breathability – is very encouraging as we look at addressing cotton fabrics requirements.
      Let me know if you want us to reach out to you – We’d happily continue the discussion.

  6. Every action focused on saving our planet COUNTS
    I am very proud to work in a company that is working on that. Very interesting article. Moving Forward!

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