Wednesday, August 21, 2013

75 Years of Lenzing Fibres (2013)

The Lenzing website now provides a version of Tencel development story containing the following paragraphs:

On the Cover:
Lenzing succeeded in helping the viscose technology which is already 100 years old to reach new heights. At the same time Lenzing developed a completely new technology, Tencel(r), which will also shape the cellulose fibre industry in the coming 100 years.


As of the 1970s the global cellulose fiber industry began searching for alternative production processes for viscose fibers. The most successful results were attained by researchers at the Dutch Akzo Group. After years of research work, its subsidiary American ENKA managed to dissolve pulp in the organic solvent N-methylmorpholine oxide, in short NMMO, and to produce fibers from this solvent. Akzo-ENKA operated a pilot plant using this process. The company patented its know-how but terminated any further development work.

Later these fibers were given the generic name “lyocell“.

Lenzing also carried out research on alternatives and ultimately came across the NMMO solvent process. After Lenzing had successfully manufactured fibers on a small scale using this technology, it licensed the know-how from Akzo in the year 1987.

Lenzing’s competitor Courtaulds also acquired an Akzo license.

In 1990, Lenzing started on construction on a semi-commercial pilot plant.

No company with the exception of Lenzing has decades of experience with the technology for TENCEL®, the fiber of the 21st century. TENCEL® remains the research and development priority of Lenzing. It is essential to further discover, spread and commercialize the extensive potential applications of the TENCEL® technology.

Here's the link to the relevant pages.  

While Lenzing continue to gloss over the Courtaulds contribution to Tencel development*, the new history is commendably candid about the Third Reich origins of their viscose operation:

Lenzing AG was one of several “rayon” factories which were established by the National Socialist regime in 1938. The underlying reason was to make the German “Thousand Year Reich” independent of cotton imports by producing rayon domestically. After the war, the decision was made to continue operating the plant due to its importance for the Austrian textile industry. Austrian banks coordinated the financing, and thus became the majority shareholders of Lenzing. Over the following decades Lenzing emerged into a quality and technology leader. Lenzing grew to become the world market leader, whereas almost all other viscose fiber plants in Europe terminated production. The secret to this success has been the innovative strength to continually further develop these fibers. 

The history of Lenzing’s founding has been comprehensively and scientifically dealt with and documented. In 2010, following eleven years of research work, the Austrian contemporary historian Roman Sandgruber published the new standard work “Lenzing: Anatomie einer Industriegr√ľndung im Dritten Reich“(Lenzing: Anatomy of an Industrial Start-Up in the Third Reich” 

The above link to the book also features an interview, in English, with Roman Sandgruber.  Here's an extract:

The typically close interrelationship of the state, the political party and the business community during the time of National Socialism is clearly demonstrated when examining the founding of Lenzing. The search for a suitable site in the former industrial region, the expropriation of the former Jewish owners, the overhasty buildup without carefully considering costs, the resulting corruption, the “rayon imperialism” in the occupied and conquered areas, the networks of the management levels, the use of forced labor, the concentration camps for women, the subsequent struggle over the inheritance and the continued operation of the plant were all aspects to be included in a single case study. There is hardly any other corporate history in this period in which this is the case. 

*Between 1987 and 1992 Courtaulds solved the scale-up issues which had led Akzo to abandon the process, installed a  production plant in Mobile Alabama, planned a 2nd plant for Mobile and a 3rd for Grimsby, and had a highly successful Tencel launch in fashion apparel.  It was after this that Lenzing decided to scale-up their process in Heiligenkreuz. (Click on the Year links in the Right hand side bar for more detail)

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