Far away from the public glare in research centres and labs around the world, thousands of textile engineers, chemists and other specialists are continually inventing, testing and adapting green processes and products. Jozef De Coster writes about innovations that saw the light of the day in 2018.

Looking back on research developments in the fibre-to-fashion industry in 2018, one can vouchsafe say it was a great year. Green innovations were numerous and potentially very impactful. Let's take a look at a number of 'green' patent applications presented at the 57th Global Fiber Congress in Dornbirn, and at some winners of Green Product Awards and H&M Global Change Awards.

The silent and invisible work of researchers

British environmental and political activist George Monbiot recently remarked that humanity is a group of altruists led by psychopaths. He argued that most people are willing to cooperate in order to attain a common goal, for instance the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, cooperation is not what some politicians and plutocrats want: whatever the cost for people and planet, they prefer to do what provides them the most power or wealth.

In the textiles and fashion sector, which is stigmatised as "the world's second most unsustainable industry", there's certainly a willingness to cooperate to get rid of the stigma of extreme unsustainability. Among visible signs are the numerous, even too numerous green labels. Less visible is the patient work in research centres and labs where many thousands of textile engineers, chemists and other specialists are continually inventing, testing and adapting green processes and products.

Of course, most research institutes and companies are not as generous as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who refused to make big money from his invention. His basic philosophy was: "This is for everyone." A more general attitude is: "We invent things, we apply for a patent on our inventions, and in accordance with a patent license, we want royalties from those who use, sell, import, our patented methods or products."

Some 'green' patent applications

It's interesting to look into the International Patent Classification to find out for which 'Climate change related technologies' (Y02) textile companies have applied for a patent. Not all of the 750 patent applications for mitigation or adaptation against climate change deserve a close examination.

It's well known that a majority of Chinese patent applications are more motivated by fiscal incentives than by scientific and commercial goals. Many 'green' textile patent applications relate to battery-separators. But, there are also interesting applications in other fields.