Circular textile baron uses old clothes to solve global problem

By 2030, the Dutch textile sector wants to be 80 percent circular, much more ambitious than the legal requirement of 50 percent. By 2050, this should be 100 percent, as is the case for all other sectors and industries. Circular textiles have three essential characteristics: the textiles are recyclable (designed for recycling); a recycling system is available (designed to recycle); and the textile is made from recycled material (recycling in design). The vision of SaXcell® BV provides for that last essential characteristic by producing high-quality, regenerated yarns. Their innovation closes the textile circle and stores CO2 contained in the textiles for as long as possible.


This groundbreaking solution comes out of the innovative Twente textile industry. Generation after generation, age-old textile knowledge in clever minds and skilled fingers is now almost as momentous as our collective mountain of clothing. On top of that mountain, wisdom has finally broken through. By inventing, developing and realizing a groundbreaking raw material, an almost “infinite” CO2 reservoir can be realized for fully circular textiles within existing production processes. By preserving the carbon dioxide in the natural fibers and then regenerating it, an endless store of CO2 is created in textiles made from natural cotton fibers and natural wood fibers respectively.

Regenerated textile fibers

The brand name SaXcell® is an abbreviation of the words “Saxion cellulose”. Gerrit explains: ‘These are textile fibers regenerated into yarns, which are made from recycled household textile waste, including cotton clothing. The industrial process of converting textile waste into SaXcell® fibers is a crucial first step in realizing a complete and endless textile chain. It is complete because its aim is to include almost all discarded textiles: first cotton textile waste, then textile waste made of cotton and a little polyester, and so on. So from natural to artificial textile waste, even though cotton and polyester are separated in the SaXcell® process. This chain is endless, because in principle this unique approach never has to stop when sufficient material has been produced to satisfy the growing, worldwide demand for this regenerated raw material.’ Then SaXcell® offers circularity to the second power, innovation squared. That is not all; this innovative cellulose material allows for even more sustainable processes.

Natural Storage

Carbon dioxide is a persistent greenhouse gas that has a cumulative effect: the longer the CO2 emissions, the higher the concentration of CO2. This is because CO2 does not break down in the air on its own. Cotton plants as well as deciduous and coniferous trees are natural storage sources for CO2. During its lifetime, a tree takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it. This CO2 is also stored during the lifetime of a product made from wood pulp. The wood cellulose therefore still fulfills the function of a carbon reservoir, even though the tree and the forest no longer exist. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine exactly how much CO2 a particular tree stores. Because this differs per species and it depends on the age of the tree. A fast-growing tree stores a lot of CO2, but may not grow old. A slow-growing tree that becomes very old, will retain CO2 longer. A mature tree stores an average of about 22 kilograms of CO2 per year. This storage is thus preserved in the cellulose that is extracted from fresh wood fibres. A similar type of storage takes place in the cellulose obtained from fresh cotton fibres. Cotton still fulfills the function of a carbon reservoir.

Supernatural Storage

Because SaXcell® is composed of “refreshed” cellulose, the stored CO2 is preserved as long as the textile does not end up in incinerators or landfills, but is reused each time in this unique regeneration process. Moreover, it is by definition a circular source that does not draw from newly plucked cotton, or from newly felled trees. SaXcell® reuses both existing – natural – storage sources from recycled textiles. In this way the CO2 is preserved, encapsulated in our clothing, towels, sheets, et cetera. The solvent for regeneration can also be reused for more than 99 percent. The SaXcell® fibers can be regenerated many times themselves, while the fibers are stronger and retain color better than the original materials from which they were made. This is true renewal.

From recycling to circular

Worldwide some 35 million tons of clothing, towels and sheets end up in incinerators or landfills each year. This is bad for the environment in three ways: emissions into the air, leaching into the groundwater, and the release of CO2 stored in cellulose. Collecting, reusing, and regenerating textiles is the foundation for a circular and regenerative textile industry. In the Netherlands, 45 percent of textiles are collected separately, while 55 percent disappears into residual waste and is – unnecessarily – incinerated. Every year in the Netherlands, almost 100 million kilos of textiles are thrown away to disappear in incinerators. An enormous loss of CO2 storage, which causes further warming of our Earth. In 2018, 82 million kilos of textiles were collected separately in the Netherlands. On average, 53 percent of separated textiles are reused, and 33 percent are recycled, for example as cleaning cloths, insulation material, mattress filling or other low-value applications. High-quality applications take place in the automotive industry (inside car roofs, dashboards, or door panels), the white goods sector (insulation in washing machines, dishwashers and air conditioning), and felt products (bags and wall coverings such as Denimtex®). Less than 1 percent is made into textile material to produce new clothing, such as renewed jeans, which currently only contain less than 50% upcycled cotton.

Pilot plant

For the regeneration of collected textiles, SaXcell® started on a lab scale in 2015 with 50 kilograms of threads on a bobbin. Several deep blue towels were made a successful trial. In 2017, that annual test quantity had already risen to 100 kilograms, to great success. In the pilot plant of this startup, the production volume has increased to 100 kilos of regenerated fiber pulp per day three years later. This should soon increase to an annual volume of about 25 tons of regenerated textile yarns in the pilot plant. Meanwhile, Gerrit, together with his team of colleagues and international partners and investors, is on his way to realize industrial production of up to 10,000 tons of regenerated textile yarns per year. But where do you start? How do you handle that?

From sustainability to eco-efficiency

By combining groundbreaking raw material innovation with in-depth process innovation, SaXcell® BV aims to achieve maximum eco-efficiency: the most optimal balance between ecology and economy. It puts our natural habitat first, and only then our economic activities. Gerrit explains the difference: ‘Where “sustainable development” focuses – only – on meeting the needs of the present without jeopardizing future generations to meet their own needs too, “eco-efficiency” is a fundamental step further. Eco-efficiency aims to achieve an optimal value-cost ratio with a minimum ecological impact, which takes full account of the carrying capacity of our Earth. Then the sustainable impact of the – regenerated – raw material, the recyclable product design and the circular process design are completely central. Three innovations in one.”

From sped-up to grown-up

“The regenerated fibers fit seamlessly into the existing value chain, bridging the remaining gap between waste and new raw materials. No other requirements are imposed on current textile installations for processing the yarns. All existing machines, equipment and techniques are fully compatible. This also applies to production staff. In this way SaXcell® fills the missing link in the realization of a closed, circular value chain in the textile industry. Scaling up from pilot to industrial production is planned for 2022. Then, tonnage will increase from 25 to 10,000 tons of regenerated yarn per year. This means that the start-up has matured: an innovative “grown-up”. A first, brand new production hall was set up in Enschede. It is expected that similar factories will then be established all over Europe and beyond, until the international workload meets the growing demand from the market.”

Wearing comfort

That this potential exists is evidenced by the recent concrete interest of two world-class top fashion brands. Their upcoming seasonal collections are partly designed and made from regenerated textiles. That is how the first 100 pieces of clothing write history. Textiles made with SaXcell® are just as pleasant to wear as cotton, while the fabric feels just as soft and supple. Because cotton fibers are used as raw material, breathability and the ability to absorb moisture are similar. The wearing comfort, the coloring strength and the yarn strength make SaXcell® a potentially popular material for corporate clothing and consumer textiles. Gerrit emphasizes: ‘These fibers are therefore rightly seen as a good or superior alternative to cotton. In addition, these strong fibers can be processed into a particularly finely spun yarn, which also further increases the wearing comfort.’

Ingredient Branding

“Our marketing strategy will have to be very focused on the well-known “inside” principle. By visualizing the high-quality properties of our regenerated yarns explicitly, briefly and powerfully to consumers and companies, end users can see the value of SaXcell® for our shared future. After all, this sustainable component is a specific ingredient in all those high-quality textiles. Nevertheless, we think that concretely naming all the properties and the impact that we realize will greatly enhance the credibility of the end product. People need to know this. After all, they manage their CO2 reservoir themselves, and through good use and responsible reuse they can always return it to this almost endless circular chain. In this way, SaXcell® will exert a positive and decisive influence on the purchasing decisions of companies and consumers,” says Gerrit.

Textile industry 4.0

In this regenerative activity, honest receiving and giving between nature and the producers is paramount. Gerrit: ‘Regeneration is originally a biological phenomenon in which damaged organs of an organism are completely repaired. Our planet is such an organism. The soil, the forests, the farmlands, the plants, and the waters of our world are the organs. By renewing – regenerating – the “textile industry 4.0” can make the protection of our ecosystems a guiding principle in everything it does and pursues.’ Then the economy serves nature and humanity, and no longer destroys.

Author: Jaap de Carpentier Wolf