In a big step towards GORE-TEX’s continued mission to reduce its carbon footprint, the brand today announced that it will use expanded polyethylene (ePE) as a complementary material. This move advances the company’s sustainability goals by helping to eliminate PFCs.
In the outside world, there is GORE-TEX everywhere. Unfortunately, it is also increasingly found in nature itself – high-performance textiles have adamantly resisted biodegradability. Meanwhile, the company’s carbon footprint has become a growing concern.
Today, GORE-TEX announced that it will widely implement a new material that counteracts these effects. Expanded polyethylene, or ePE, is the latest achievement in the company’s 40-year history of textile development.
The material will play a role in its continued mission to reduce its reliance on what it calls PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCECs). The new ePE replaces PFCECs in part of the GORE-TEX range without sacrificing performance, according to the brand.
The change will affect the industry as deeply as GORE-TEX; the list of brands provided by the company is huge. To begin with, ePE will appear in adidas, Arc’teryx, Dakine, Patagonia, Reusch, Solomon, and Ziener products.
“As a materials science company, much of the knowledge we have developed over the past 40 years is not specific to a single material,” said Matt Decker, global technical and innovation manager for consumer fabrics, WL Gore & Associates.
“This expertise and deep understanding of our applications allows us to create complementary and sustainable ePE products for use in GORE-TEX brand consumer products. “
GORE-TEX Sustainability Goals
According to GORE-TEX, the implementation of the ePE is an important step in its mission of sustainable development. Overall, ePE will affect its goal of reducing its product-related carbon emissions by 35% by 2030.
Downsizing is a useful way to think about it: GORE-TEX says it wants to use fewer materials overall, reduce the carbon footprint of those materials, and decrease the risk of them being thrown away by improving durability. The company’s ultimate goal is carbon neutrality by 2050.
Gore participated in blue sign and OEKO-TEX environmental certification programs for more than a decade to force accountability. And ePE has already obtained STANDARD 100 certification from OEKO-TEX. GORE-TEX says it is in the final stages with Bluesign.
But perhaps more specifically, the new material advances Gore Fabrics Division’s goal of eliminating PFCs of Environmental Concern (PFCEC) during the life cycle of its consumer products.
How does ePE fit in?
What are PFCECs? Gore Fabrics invented the category and defines substances as “Highly fluorinated, small enough to be bioavailable and persistent. Although not all PFCs of environmental concern are hazardous, they have the potential to disperse widely in water, where they will remain for several generations.
Notably, the company does not identify its ubiquitous ePTFE as a PFCEC because it is insoluble in water and not biodegradable.
It is important to note that ePE will not entirely replace PFCECs in GORE-TEX materials – at least, not initially. The company planned to reduce PFCECs in its products by 85% in 2020 and phase it out completely by 2023. As of this writing, the status of this initiative was unclear.
However, ePE is a start. According to Higg Material Durability Index Tests, ePE beats the polymers it replaces in terms of its carbon footprint. The brand claims that its durability leads to long product life cycles and its high strength-to-weight ratio reduces the use of materials.
How does GORE-TEX ePE work?
GORE-TEX notes that materials similar to ePE have been available for a long time. Microporous polyethylene (PE) has been around for years in markets that the textile brand has avoided. PE-based membranes that might work in other applications lacked the durability of waterproof, windproof and breathable clothing.
GORE-TEX developed PE using specific expansion techniques and combining it with polyurethane (PU). According to the brand, the construction method “exploits its light, thin but strong characteristics” and creates the desired performance with a reduced environmental footprint.
The implementation of ePE in finished products is a process. First, GORE-TEX begins by expanding the material to create billions of tiny holes in it. The holes allow steam to pass through but do not compromise its high strength to weight ratio.
Then the manufacturer adds polyurethane to create a breathable but waterproof membrane.
“The membrane material is the functional foundation for a larger system,” Decker explained. “It’s a microporous material which is a wonderful scaffolding as a base material to create waterproof and breathable fabrics.”
The inclusion of PU is the critical step – it makes the resulting material waterproof, at only half the thickness compared to the company’s current alternatives.
Finally, it introduces the material into the products in the form of a laminate. By bonding it to the backing or facing textiles, GORE-TEX offers its characteristic waterproof qualities with less carbon consumption, weight and thickness.
Tests and veracity: GORE-TEX ePE
Internal tests carried out by the brand have verified the performance and durability of ePE on clothing (shirts and jackets), shoes and gloves. Overall, he found the material to perform similarly to that used by his existing membranes.
For clothing, it lists the following statistics:
- ISO 811 sealed inlet pressure test:> 28 m
- ISO 11092 breathability test: RET
- ISO 9237 windproof test:
The company did not disclose specific data for the shoes and gloves.
Conclusion and availability
Decker expressed GORE-TEX great aspirations for its new ePE membrane material. Although it has yet to hit the market, expectations are high.
“EPE is a natural extension of our history and linked to our heritage,” said Decker. “But at the same time, it helps move boldly into the future of the GORE-TEX brand as we continue our journey to unlock new levels of performance and durability.”
Look for ePE in GORE-TEX end-user products from fall 2022, in select brands.