Director, Dept. of Textile Engg, Chemistry, and Science, North Carolina State University, USA
In a recent invited presentation at the World Industry Leaders Summit in China, I had the honor and the opportunity to speak to world political and economic leaders. At the summit government offcials and CEOs representing different sectors of the global industry aimed to point out specific needs of various sectors and highlight opportunities as well as challenges ahead. Not surprisingly, the traditional energy sector including fossil and coal, as well as the renewable energy including solar, wind, and geothermal were heavily represented. Others spoke of petrochemical, chemical and manufacturing sectors and seemed to share a common agenda revolving around green innovations and low carbon footprints. European political leaders (mainly) spoke of sustainable and responsible growth, while industrial leaders shared their vision of the exciting technological possibilities ahead. The majority of Chinese representatives stressed the benefits of investments in China and reminded the audience of the vast market available. Experts were enticed with considerable benefits and opportunities to share their expertise in the underdeveloped regions of the country. What surprised me the most, however, was that as far as I could gather, the textile industry was not represented!One might be forgiven to argue that the aftermaths of the global recession are still fresh in the minds of world leaders and perhaps being conservative and pursuing the path of highest perceived potential success would attract more votes! After all, admittedly, for over a decade the traditional textile industry has suffered from a negative image and many believe that it has declined, irreversibly, especially in the industrialized world. Even if this were true, it would not apply to China, where the textile industry has bloomed and grown tremendously in the recent past, perhaps at the expense of the declining sectors in the West. In the fiber manufacturing sector alone, China is now the largest manufacturer of synthetic fibers with polyester manufacturing holding the lion’s share. This has placed China in a leading position in the global supply of this important fiber. I was among the very few academics invited and being in charge of a Polymer and Color Chemistry program (with no Textiles in the title) I wondered why the textile industry, and especially that of China, was not represented. Perhaps this was an oversight on the part of organizers; maybe there were other reasons; but I wondered in a fleeting pessimistic moment whether this was due to a portrayed image of a traditional trade with little or no progress and with no foreseeable future. This prompted me to take a frank look and share my personal observations regarding the state of our industry with the hope to shed some light on where we truly stand.
What may have not been immediately noticeable to the audience was that many of the heavily represented sectors include textiles in their core, literally! In the energy sector nano-fibers are being used to generate high effciency batteries and fuel cells while composite fibrous structures are used for the construction of wind turbines, and associated components. In the transportation sector, a large percentage of the new Dreamliner jet planes are based on carbon composite structures .
Boeing states that it is the company’s most fuel-effcient airliner and consumes 20% less fuel than the similarly-sized 767 . The fuselage for the new Airbus is being made in North Carolina and the first unit was delivered to France in Jan of this year . Likewise, automotive manufactures have increased the amount of composites used in cars to reduce weight, and improve fuel effciency. BMW is one example where carbon fiber is being used extensively in the i3 and i8 designs and is anticipated to use a mixture of composites, high-grade steel and aluminum in future designs like the BMW 7-series .