Lyocell is a form of rayon which consists of genetically altered cellulose fibre made from dissolving pulp (bleached wood pulp) using dry jet-wet spinning. It was developed beginning in 1972 by a team at the now defunct American Enka fibers facility at Enka, NC. This development was recognised by the American Association of Fiber Chemists in 2003 by the awarding of their Millson Award. The operating name for the fibre inside the Enka Organization was "Newcell", and the development was carried through pilot plant scale before the work was halted. The fibre was developed further as Tencel in the 1980s by Courtaulds Fibres in Coventry, UK and at the Grimsby, UK pilot plant. The process was first commercialised at Courtaulds rayon factories at Mobile, Alabama (1990) and at the Grimsby plant (1998). In 1998 Courtaulds was acquired by Akzo Nobel, who combined the Tencel division with other fibre divisions under the Acordis banner, prior to selling them off to private equity (CVC Partners). In 2004 CVC sold the Tencel division to Lenzing AG, who combined it with their "Lenzing Lyocell" business but maintained the brand name Tencel. As of 2013[update], Lenzing AG is the only major producer of lyocell fibres.
The US Federal Trade Commission defines Lyocell as a fibre "composed of cellulose precipitated from an organic solution in which no substitution of the hydroxyl groups takes place and no chemical intermediates are formed". It classifies the fibre as a sub-category of rayon. The fibre is used to make textiles for clothing and other purposes.
As of 2010[update], Lyocell is more expensive to produce than cotton or viscose rayon. It is used in many everyday fabrics. Staple fibres are used in clothes such as denim, chino, underwear, casual wear, and towels. Filament fibres are used in items that have a silkier appearance such as women’s clothing and men’s dress shirts. Lyocell can be blended with a variety of other fibres such as silk, cotton, rayon, polyester, linen, nylon, and wool. Lyocell is also used in conveyor belts, specialty papers, and medical dressings.
Lyocell shares many properties with other cellulosic fibres such as cotton, linen, ramie and viscose rayon. Some main characteristics of lyocell fibres are that they are soft, absorbent, very strong when wet or dry, and resistant to wrinkles. Lyocell fabric can be machine washed or drycleaned, it drapes well, and it can be dyed many colors, and can simulate a variety of textures such as suede, leather, and silk.
Hardwood logs are chipped into squares about the size of postage stamps. The chips are digested chemically, to remove the lignin and to soften them enough to be mechanically milled to a wet pulp. This pulp may be bleached. Then it is dried into a continuous sheet and rolled onto spools. At this stage, it has the consistency of thick posterboard paper. The roll of cellulose weighs some 500 lb (227 kg). The waste liquor may be reworked to produce tall oil, used to make alkyd resins.
At the Lyocell mill, rolls of pulp are broken into one-inch squares and dissolved in N-methylmorpholine N-oxide, giving a solution called "dope." The filtered cellulose solution is then pumped through spinnerets, devices used with a variety of manmade fibres . The spinneret is pierced with small holes rather like a showerhead; when the solution is forced through it, continuous strands of filament come out. The fibres are drawn in air to align the cellulose molecules, giving the Lyocell fibres its characteristic high strength. The fibres are then immersed in another solution of amine oxide, diluted this time, which sets the fibre strands. Then they are washed with de-mineralised water. The Lyocell fibre next passes to a drying area, where the water is evaporated from it. The strands then pass to a finishing area, where a lubricant, which may be a soap or silicone or other agent depending on the future use of the fibre, is applied. This step is basically a detangler, prior to carding and spinning into yarn.
The dried, finished fibres are at this stage in a form called tow, a large untwisted bundle of continuous lengths of filament. The bundles of tow are taken to a crimper, a machine that compresses the fibre, giving it texture and bulk. The crimped fibre is carded by mechanical carders, which perform an action like combing, to separate and order the strands. The carded strands are cut and baled for shipment to a fabric mill. The entire manufacturing process, from unrolling the raw cellulose to baling the fibre, takes about two hours. After this, the Lyocell may be processed in many ways. It may be spun with another fibre, such as cotton or wool. The resulting yarn can be woven or knitted like any other fabric, and may be given a variety of finishes, from soft and suede-like to silky.
The amine oxide used to dissolve the cellulose and set the fibre after spinning is recycled. 98% of the amine oxide is typically recovered. Since there is little waste product, this process is relatively eco-friendly. However, it uses a substantial amount of energy, and uses an organic solvent of petrochemical origin.
- Introducing Tencel lyocell
- Lenzing Acquires Tencel, 2004
- 16 CFR 303.7(d)
- Hans Krässig, Josef Schurz, Robert G. Steadman, Karl Schliefer, Wilhelm Albrecht, Marc Mohring, Harald Schlosser "Cellulose" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 2002, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a05_375.pub2
- Kadolph, Sara; Langford, Anna (2002). Textiles (Ninth ed.). Prentice Hall.
- Dissolving of Cellulosics
- Federal Trade Commission webpage on textiles
- Information about the fibre from fibersource.com
- Lyocell: the environmental aspects
- Lenzing's page on lyocell
- OSU fact sheet
- Tencel at Courtaulds: From Genesis to Exodus and Beyond… – By Calvin Woodings
- Uniform Reuse have a long pdf report on fabric properties and suppliers including lyocell