Acordis Cellulosic Fibers Inc. Tencel Process
A Unique and Innovative Process
Inducted in 1999
In 1978, Courtaulds Fibers Inc., now known as Acordis Cellulosic Fibers Inc., set out to develop an environmentally friendly process to manufacture rayon. This work began in their research and development laboratories in Coventry, England. The effort led not only to the introduction of the first new natural fiber in more than 30 years, but also to a manufacturing process that is a breakthrough in environmentally friendly fiber technology.
Following the discovery of the new fiber and after two years of experience running a pilot plant in Grimsby, England, Courtaulds announced their decision to locate the first facility to commercially produce the new product in Axis, Alabama. There were several reasons for this decision: Courtaulds already had a rayon facility in Axis, the existing plant had a history of good labor relations, utility costs in the area were low, and the proximity of key raw materials made the area very attractive. Courtaulds broke ground on the new plant in 1990 and by the summer of 1992 the $95 million plant was operational. An additional $145 million was invested in the Axis location in late 1993. This increased the total capacity from 18,000 tonnes per annum to 50,000 tonnes.
The new fiber is licensed as Tencel and has created a whole new category of fibers with the generic name of lyocell. Tencel fiber is made from the natural cellulose found in trees, a renewable resource. The trees come from farms and managed forests where new trees are planted as mature trees are harvested. The fiber is produced by dissolving the cellulose directly into a nontoxic solvent. The resulting solution is filtered and then extruded through spinnerets to form individual strands, which are immersed in water to regenerate the cellulose in fiber form. The process is rapid and does not involve any chemical reactions. The fiber is washed to remove traces of the solvent, then dried. More than 99 percent of the solvent is recovered and recycled back into the process. Consequently, atmospheric, land, and water emissions are significantly lower in comparison with other man-made fiber processes.
The fiber is manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility that utilizes sophisticated computer control and monitoring of thousands of functions to ensure optimum quality and consistency. Much of the equipment used in the manufacturing process is either purpose-built or extensively modified as a result of long development programs with suppliers from the U.S. and around the world. The use of modern engineering methods and equipment in this unique and innovative way has lead to the establishment of 21 U.S. patents on the Tencel manufacturing process.
Clothing made of Tencel can be found in department and specialty stores nationally and internationally. Tencel has the natural, wickable comfort of cotton, with the fluid drape and color richness of rayon. It has the strength of a synthetic fabric but can have the luxurious feel and luster of silk, wool, and linen. Because of its many outstanding features, Tencel works well both for men’s and women’s clothing. The success of the fiber and the process that creates it are demonstrated by the growth in sales since its invention and commercialization.