Guayule wet suits and the challenges of sustainability
ERJ staff report (TP)
Arizona / California − Learning to surf in California's frigid breakers, Todd Copeland, a design guru at the Patagonia clothing company, concluded that wet suits weren't cutting it. Sure, a traditional Neoprene suit could keep him warm, but the suit's material could be synthesised only from non-renewable, energy-intensive resources such as petroleum or kiln-baked limestone, reported Adam Aston for The Guardian.
In spring 2008, Copeland blogged about the need for a truly green alternative. And, later that summer, his cry found its way to Yulex, an Arizona-based company working to resurrect a low-energy, low-toxin recipe for rubber from guayule, a desert shrub native to North America. Research on the plant peaked during the Second World War but was then was shelved. Yulex had restarted the work around 2000 and was making hypo-allergenic surgical gloves, but was seeking a new market. It saw Copeland's post, and soon its reps came knocking.
Yulex's efforts are set to pay off, when Patagonia releases a full wetsuit made from a 60:40 blend of guayule and conventional Neoprene, five years after Copeland initiated the search. "We hope to get that to 100 percent [guayule], but it takes time to learn a new material," says Copeland, now Patagonia's environmental product specialist.
This serendipitous match between designer and material maker is, unfortunately, a rare exception. Speaking to Copeland recently, I wondered how many misses Patagonia has evaluated for every successful innovation, such as Yulex, it brings to market. "100? Probably more," he speculated. "And many, many more don't even make it that far."
The tale of Patagonia's eco-wetsuit offers a parable of the larger challenge facing green materials on the path from lab to market. The process remains a maze that few materials survive. But a recent survey of design leaders reveals that while eco-materials still face a tougher journey than their conventional counterparts, the process of green technology transfer is gaining momentum.
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Full story from The Guardian