Is Dyneema biodegradable? (5 applications of Dyneema)

In this article, it shall be explored whether Dyneema is biodegradable or not. Other topics covered would be: 

  1. What is Dyneema?
  2. What are the applications of Dyneema?
  3. What is polyethylene?
  4. What is biodegradability?
  5. Is Dyneema biodegradable?
  6. Is there any green alternative?

Is Dyneema biodegradable?

Conventionally used and available Dyneema is not biodegradable because it is made from polyethylene, a plastic. However, with the invention of biobased Dyneema, it has become possible to degrade it along with other environmental benefits.

Biobased Dyneema is made from plant-based (primarily) and fossil-based polyethylene using a mass balance approach making it biodegradable as well since natural materials are biodegradable. 

Biobased Dyneema is claimed to reduce carbon footprint by more than 90 percent and is also claimed to be recyclable. Tests were conducted and successful conversion of Dyneema fibres to solvents and oils was achieved.

What is Dyneema?

Dyneema is a fibre that is also termed as Cuben fibre. Some regard Dyneema as fibre from the future. You may remember seeing those science fiction movies from your childhood in which the hero wears a magical suit protecting him from all sorts of danger?

Well, Dyneema is the material behind that magical suit which is designed and created with a remarkable feat of science, innovation and technology. 

Dyneema is an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene which is claimed to be the strongest fibre in the world. Research claims it is 15 times stronger than steel. 

You may wonder where the magical part is, then? Despite being this strong, Dyneema fabric is super lightweight as well (in context to its strength) allowing it to float on water. It is two times lighter than carbon fibre. 

That is why Dyneema is termed as fabric from the future because the characteristics given off by Dyneema are simply put, surreal! 

Dyneema is manufactured by DSM company which is based in the Netherlands. 

What are the applications of Dyneema? (5 Applications of Dyneema)

With remarkable features and characteristics, you might be wondering what are the applications of Dyneema. In other words, which industries make use of Dyneema. 

The applications of Dyneema are quite versatile and stretched to many industries. These applications include: 

  • Used by the military and law enforcement agencies as a protective armour 
  • Used in the fishing industry to make ropes and nets
  • Used in the automotive industry and bicycle industry as a protective shield against high-impact collisions 
  • Used in the sports industry to make sports equipment which will absorb high amounts of energy 
  • Used in the apparel and textile industry 

These are some of the contemporary uses and applications of Dyneema fabric. Due to its high strength and lightweight, it makes an excellent fit to be used in body armours by agencies such as the army.

The use of Dyneema in the sports industry is also stood out use wherein it is used to make very high-quality sports equipment. 

However, the use of Dyneema in the automotive and bicycle industry is becoming a hot topic in today‚Äôs time. Dyneema complemented with carbon fibre creates an excellent shield for both cars (high-speed cars in particular) and bicycles. 

This shield protects the drivers or users from the impact of collisions that are high in magnitude. 

The use of Dyneema in the apparel and fashion industry is also gaining more popularity as small amounts of Dyneema are incorporated into clothes to give additional strengths. A good example would be Dyneema denim. 

Dyneema denim is made when small amounts of Dyneema is added or incorporated into the denim material to give additional strength. 

What is polyethylene?

Polyethylene is also termed polythene, which is a common plastic that is used in a number of industries today. It is a thermoplastic polymer which is available in different compositions and combinations to give off the required purposes. 

The common use of polyethylene is in packaging primarily because of its properties of low friction, chemical friction, and impact resistance. 

Polyethylene is the basic component which is used for the manufacturing of Dyneema by DSM. 

Coming to the question of if polyethylene is harmful to humans, it is explored that polyethylene is not harmful to humans by direct routes (inhalation) et cetera. However, polyethylene does cause numerous environmental impacts. 

Polyethylene is made from non-renewable resources such as petroleum or natural gas. These non-renewable sources are both finite and their processing (to be made into plastics) also harms the environment. 

On top of that, polyethylene is also harmful to the environment because it is non-biodegradable and hence may persist in the environment for many years causing harm to life and the environment. 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability can be termed as the process through which material is degraded in nature. It is done by the action of various microbes and decomposers like bacteria, fungi et cetera. 

Biodegradability is a natural process and is most suited to natural substances like animal-based or plant-based materials. 

However, biodegradability is usually unfit for non-natural substances which are synthesised by man. That is because the microbes are not able to break them down and as a result, these materials persist in the environment for longer spans of time. 

It is researched that non-biodegradable material may stay in the environment for more than 400 years. During this time, such material may cause great impacts on the environment and life in general. 

With the increasing population and surged-up use of consumer products, the need for biodegradation is now more than ever. If there are more non-biodegradable products then it would mean that more waste will be accumulated in the environment. 

It simply implies that more waste production is inversely linked to human existence in a sustainable manner and would cause the earth to become incapacitated to carry and sustain life. 

Is Dyneema biodegradable?

Given the introduction to Dyneema and to biodegradability, it shall now be questioned whether Dyneema is biodegradable or not. 

As mentioned in the previous sections, Dyneema is made from polyethylene which is a commonly used plastic, it is plausible to know that Dyneema is not biodegradable. 

Plastics are notoriously linked to being non-biodegradable because the impacts of non-biodegradable plastic are grave and negative. 

It is known that plastics may take more than 400 years to degrade. To put this into perspective, natural materials such as cotton may degrade in about 5 months. This extreme discrepancy results in a number of problems for the environment and life. 

Plastics are known to affect more than 700 species on land, increasing the change of species endangerment and eventually extinction. Plastics also cause harm to many aquatic species because fishes confuse plastics as their food and engulf it. 

This leads to deaths and loss of life. More than that, plastics through this enter many parts of food chains eventually ending up in our kitchens and water bottles. 

In humans, plastics are known to cause medical complications such as infertility, cancer, psychological impacts, skin and eye diseases to name a few. 

Plastics also cause damage to plant life by accumulating in the soil and changing the qualities of soil, making that soil unfit for plants. 

Is there any silver lining to this dark cloud of non-biodegradability?

It has been established that Dyneema is not biodegradable since it is made from a common plastic (polyethylene). Now the question is, is that it?

The answer is, no. With the increasing environmental concern and more room for sustainability and eco-friendly in the not-so-green industrialisation, recent technology, while being considerate of the product quality and price; is also mindful of the environmental impacts. 

That is why there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of non-biodegradability. 

The manufacturer of Dyneema (DSM) has come up with a bio-based Dyneema fibre. This Dyneema fibre is made from natural substances (bio-based feedstock along with fossil-based feedstock) making it not only biodegradable (however not completely) but also environmentally friendly. 

This bio-based Dyneema delivers the same fabric-from-future traits but with a touch of sustainability. It is certified by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification. 

It is claimed that the carbon footprint of this bio-based Dyneema is 90% lesser than that of conventional Dyneema made from polyethylene. 

It is claimed that bio-based Dyneema is made from a mass-balance approach to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels while also improving the economy and the environment. 

Biobased Dyneema is made from fossil feedstock and bio-based feedstock (from timber and pulp industry waste) making it a mix of natural and man-made while enabling it to be both biodegradable and eco-friendly.

Conclusion

It is concluded that conventional Dyneema is made from a polymer called polyethylene. This is plastic and therefore is non-biodegradable. Conventional Dyneema may pose serious threats to the environment despite exhibiting exceptional physical qualities. 

However, recently introduced biobased Dyneema is made from fossil feed and biobased feedstock. This approach makes it both environmentally friendly (reducing more than 90 percent of carbon footprint) while also making it degradable. 

Biobased Dyneema is primarily produced with the waste from the wood and pulp industry to make ethylen rather than through the use of petrochemicals. This shift makes biobased Dyneema both sustainable and eco-friendly. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is Dyneema biodegradable?

Can you recycle Dyneema?

Yes, it is possible to recycle Dyneema after the manufacturer collaborated with a clean technology company. Initial tests resulted in the recycling of Dyneema fibre into oils, waxes and solvents. This is an excellent step towards recycling and circularity. 

Does biobased Dyneema imply that there is a compromise on quality?

No, biobased Dyneema delivers the same robust results as conventional Dyneema including being 15 times stronger than steel and 2 times lighter than carbon fibre. 

References 

  • Van Dingenen, J. L. J. (1989). High performance Dyneema fibres in composites. Materials & Design, 10(2), 101-104.
  • Li, J., Lemstra, P. J., & Ma, P. (2022). Can high-performance fibers be (come) bio-based and also biocompostable?. Advanced Industrial and Engineering Polymer Research.
  • Biobased Dyneema Fibre. Retrieved from: https://www.dsm.com/dyneema/en_GB/sustainability/bio-based-dyneema-fiber.html
  • Walker, S., & Rothman, R. (2020). Life cycle assessment of bio-based and fossil-based plastic: A review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 261, 121158.

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