Natural vs. Synthetic: Using ELNs to Develop Sustainable Textile Dyes


While natural dyes are increasingly sought after, they have some limitations compared to their synthetic counterparts. Perhaps the answer to meeting textile sustainability demands lies in hybrid approaches.
Image source: Flicker CC user Ismael De la Riva

With the current focus on global warming and environmental conservation, green practices and sustainability stand at the forefront of many people’s minds. From increased consumption of organic products to laboratory adoption of green chemistry, these concerns span multiple fields and industries.

Major sports brands Nike and Adidas have recently been incorporating waterless dye technology into their product development. Water consumption, energy use and chemical waste are the main concerns when it comes to the textile industry. This new technology shows reduction on all three fronts. Unfortunately, experts fear widespread industry adoption may be slow due to the upfront costs, even though analysis demonstrates that long-term savings will more than make up for it.

The answer also doesn’t lie with using more natural dyes. Despite the romanticism of clothing that comes from organic processes, the reality has multiple challenges. Natural dyes are more expensive, requiring larger quantities to obtain the same depth of color as their synthetic counterparts. In addition, more land is required to grow the raw material needed. With global overpopulation leading to shrinking free acreage, this is a big problem.

Because of the price tag involved, natural dyes are likely to remain a luxury product. Even so, this doesn’t mean a compromise can’t be reached. Perhaps the key to meeting the larger mass market’s demand for sustainable textile dyes is a hybrid of natural and synthetic. Given the numerous factors in play, it’s possible that digital tools like electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) will be needed to aid the development.

Genetically Modified Natural Dyes

Despite public criticism, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) do offer advantages. If we can genetically engineer a heart-healthy tomato, why can’t we create crops that require less space to grow? Land availability is a major limiting factor, so it makes sense to develop a compact crop that produces more dye raw material in less space.

ELNs can track the progress to engineer such a crop. From identifying the genes of interest to viability studies needed to determine success, electronic notebooks can collect all the results. Even if researchers take a more natural approach involving crossbreeding hybrids, digital tools can still be used to note the process. Just because we use a method that’s centuries old, that doesn’t mean our recordkeeping has to be limited to the same methods.

Synthetic Dyes from Natural Sources

Even though the desire for natural dyes has increased, synthetic dyes still have advantageous traits. They achieve more vibrant colors. They’re also more consistent. Cloth colored by synthetic dye is typically uniform in hue. Natural dyes often yield more variations. For that reason alone, synthetic dyes should remain a viable option.

One way to achieve this is by creating synthetic dyes from natural materials. Synthetic dyes are typically made from man-made chemicals, which is why uniformity of shade can be obtained. But rather than a dye made from chemicals, why not incorporate more natural sources? This seems like a reasonable way to balance the desire for natural goods and the costs of mass production.

ELNs can be used to note the proportions of synthetic chemicals versus natural sources. Obviously, different formulations will yield different shades and intensities. It might even affect the uniformity of the staining process. With the electronic notebook’s ability to tag and index data, product developers can search results to find the perfect ratio of natural to synthetic material that balances quality and cost efficiency.

Meeting the Demand for Sustainable Textile Dyes with the Help of ELNs

It’s not just major athletic brands that are looking for ways to achieve textile sustainability. The fashion industry is as well. But while being eco-friendly is an ideal goal, the realities offer many hurdles. High fashion labels can shoulder the costs of switching to all-natural vegetable dyes and fabrics made from bamboo. Mass consumer labels cannot, because the general public will balk at the resulting price increase.

In this case, the textile industry can strive for a compromise between synthetic dyes and natural sources. Firms can appeal to the public demand for all-natural products with a small, environmental footprint while also keeping costs at a reasonable level. And ELNs can serve as the perfect tool in finding the answer to this balancing act.

Is your firm looking for a way to bring natural sources into your products while maintaining the convenience offered by synthetic materials? The BIOVIA Notebook offers data management features and search tools that can help your product development. Visit our website and contact us today to learn more.

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