The wet processing of the textile industry generates large amounts of wastewater and has a large carbon footprint. It is the second largest cause of global water pollution, producing about 20 percent of global wastewater and is predicted to account for more than 10% of CO2 emissions by 2030.
H&M backed British start up company Alchemie Technology has developed an environmentally friendly textile dyeing machine, such a breakthrough in textile dyeing industry. The waterless dyeing machine uses 95 per cent less water and 85 per cent less energy than traditional methods, said Alan Hudd, director and founder of Alchemie Technology.
The conventional way of dyeing one ton of polyester fabric generates 30 tonnes of wastewater, which requires expensive treatment facilities to prevent polluting the environment, he said.
Hudd, a chemistry scientist visited to a dye factory in Taizhou, in eastern China’s Zhejiang province six years ago which made him realise that there was an urgent need to find a more sustainable way to dye textiles.
“It was very clear that the industry had to change,” Hudd said. “The Chinese government was saying this can’t continue because the amount of contaminated waste water was just too massive to ignore.”
This inspired Alchemie to find a digital inkjet technology suitable for textiles and build the machinery. Initially, it was developed in a laboratory in Hungary, has now been patented in the UK, Europe, the US and China.
A lot of research is being conducted on environmentally friendly dyeing technology, said Eddie Chan Yuk-mau, the CEO of Hong Kong-listed apparel supply chain management firm LeverStyle.
These include cold pad batch dyeing, which does not require heat treatment but usually takes 12 hours or more to dye to be fixed onto the fabric, Chan said.
The traditional method of dyeing is to soak the fabric in a dye bath at a temperature of 80 to 100 degrees Celsius. Alchemie technology allows dyes to be sprayed directly onto the fabric, greatly reducing water and energy consumption and waste water production.
This is similar to an inkjet printer and costs between US$1.2 million and US$1.5 million. Besides the environmental benefits, the machines can reduce costs for dyeing companies by half, through savings in material, labour, energy and water.
“Their investment can be paid back within 12 to 18 months, because they are three to five times more productive compared to the traditional method, but only three times more expensive,” Hudd said.
Weighing 10 tonnes with over 4,000 parts, they jet-spray ink directly onto a range of fabrics including cotton, polyester and nylon, he added.
According to Hudd, Alchemie began marketing the machines this year and has sold nine units so far. The first two have been launched in Central America and Taiwan, and the rest will be delivered to Turkey, India, Taiwan and Europe. The company is also looking for a distributor in China.
Hudd expected that the market has room to accommodate about 38,000 such machines worldwide if sustainability is prioritized, with Alchemy aiming to sell 200 to 300 units over the next three years.
With Alchemie Technology, manufacturing supply chain can eliminate water use and wastewater pollution, reduce energy consumption and dramatically cut CO2 emissions. Manufacturers can get the following benefits:
- 5 x more production output
- Smaller factory footprint
- Waterless dyeing
- Zero wastewater pollution
- Reduced finishing chemistry
- Lower operating costs
Alchemie is currently conducting a Series B round of funding to expand its manufacturing and marketing capabilities. Swedish fashion group H&M and At One, a San Francisco-based sustainability-focused venture capital firm, participated in its Series A round in early 2021. Alchemie has invested around £15 million (US$17.6 million) in the business so far.
Several apparel brands have shown interest in deploying the machines in their supply chains, Hudd said, adding that sports brand Adidas used a third-party laboratory to validate Alchemie’s environmental claims.