Nylon fabric, like polyester fabric, is a polymer. Nylon fabric is a form of plastic. It is manufactured through a chemical process. The process begins with carbon-based (organic) chemicals, usually coal or petroleum. Certain nylons can be produced from renewable carbon-based chemicals such as castor oil. Heat and pressure are applied to the organic chemical to polymerize two large molecules found within it: adipic acid and hexamethylenediamine. The polymerization of these two molecules produces the nylon in the form of large ribbons or sheets. Then, these ribbons and sheets are shredded down to chips. If the nylon fiber’s final purpose is to become a textile, the chips are melted down and then forced through spinnerets to create fibers. Finally, the fibers are spun into threads and knit into a textile.
how much energy does it take to produce nylon fiber?
The production of nylon uses 250 megajoules of energy per 1 kilogram of fiber produced.
A megajoule – that sounds cool! But what does it mean? Let’s put it in perspective.
A joule is a unit of energy and 1 megajoule = 1 million joules. One million joules is the amount of kinetic energy that something weighing 1 megagram (1 tonne/2204.62 lbs) has traveling at 160 km/h (99.4 mph).
So, it would take the energy of 250 elephants each weighing in at 1 tonne and each traveling at 160 km/h to create just 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of nylon fiber. Needless to say, that’s a lot of energy and a little yield.
The amount of energy it takes to create nylon fiber is twice as much energy as used to produce polyester fiber (125 MJ/kg) and nearly five times as much energy as used to process cotton fibers (55 MJ/kg). Please keep in mind, this is only the amount of energy used to create nylon fiber. The product is not yet to its final nylon fabric form.
what impact does nylon have on the environment?
Unfortunately, the process to create nylon fiber is not as green as a herd of elephants running at impossible speeds. The manufacturing process releases nitrous oxides into the atmosphere as waste. Nitrous oxide is a considerably powerful greenhouse gas and contributes to the depletion of stratospheric ozone. Nitrous oxide has a lifetime of 150 years in our atmosphere and thus accumulates. Gases created during nylon production account for one tenth of the increase of nitrous oxide in our atmosphere. Consequently, nylon production has a high impact on the environment.
The negative effects of nylon production don’t end there. Exposure to the process of manufacturing nylon offers a host of problems as well. The dust and fumes created can cause irritation of skin, nose and throat, as well as mechanical irritation of the eye.
the properties of nylon fabric
As a textile, nylon offers quite a bit of stretch. Nylon fabric also offers great variety in luster. Depending on processing, nylon can be anywhere from dull to incredibly lustrous. Unfortunately, nylon fabric also pills easily and has a tendency to attract surface soil. This makes nylon products have a shorter product life (think: tights). Nylon clothing will spend a shorter time in your wardrobe, and a longer time in the landfill. Nylon products take about 30-40 years to decompose.