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Identifying Research Gaps and Needs for the Green Transition of the European Textile Ecosystem: Insights from the ECOSYSTEX Community

The sustainability transition of the European textile ecosystem requires significant advances in scientific and practical knowledge and step changes in technological capacities across a broad spectrum of material sciences, process and environmental engineering, biotechnology, manufacturing systems, information technology, social and behavioural sciences.

As a results of two months of collaboration between the researchers, industry experts and other stakeholders involved in the 23 ECOSYSTEX project members, the ECOSYSTEX Community, facilitated by Textile ETP, is publishing their first Input Paper, titled "Research Gaps and Needs for the Green Transition of the European Textile Ecosystem" identifying the most pressing and impactful research gaps and needs to be filled to enable the green transition of the European textile ecosystem.

The document first summarises the main innovation trends related to the textile sustainability transition and the scientific, technological and operational challenges arising from them. It highlights the key role that publicly supported collaborative research and innovation plays in an industry sector dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises with limited means and even less in-house capacities to drive systemic change.

The report then describes in detail the specific knowledge gaps and research needs across the following 5 domains:

  • Scientific base of safe & sustainable textiles
  • Ecodesign
  • Bio-based textiles
  • Circular textiles
  • Sustainable textile production & supply chain

For each domain the key challenges are described and in total more than 100 specific research gaps and needs are highlighted. Many of them are interrelated and require multidisciplinary approaches. The research needs described in domain 1. are more fundamental in nature and require large scale empirical research or meta-analysis of existing dispersed research by international teams. The topics under domain 32. target the practical know-how, methods and tools needed by designers and product developers to effectively drive sustainability. Domains 3. and 4. include a variety of material science and process engineering topics including demonstration, scale-up and early market introduction challenges. Domain 5. in addition to process engineering topics focusses particularly on information and data technology approaches and systemic industry and supply chain transformations and their impact on regional economic ecosystems.

To support advances in all these domains, a broad toolbox of public funding instruments and related incentivisation strategies should be employed. Foundational knowledge and data gaps are best closed through coordination and support actions funding empirical and academic research of international teams with good access to relevant industry and market data. Material and manufacturing breakthroughs are most likely achieved by collaborative (research and) innovation actions involving applied research organisations, technology and engineering experts and industrial end users. Demonstration and upscaling projects require engagement of correctly incentivised industry players including start-ups and scale-ups. Prenormative research is advised for developing standards for helping the emerging circular biobased value chains to set off. Experimentation and diffusion of novel and emerging technologies to the many SMEs in the textile ecosystem is best achieved through cascade funding approaches. An overarching initiative with strategic vision and a broad stakeholder engagement and governance, such as the proposed European PPP STEP2030 – Sustainable Textiles European Partnership would be the appropriate concept to ensure the multiple efforts and funding commitments are strategically aligned and continuously assessed as of their effectiveness.

The ECOSYSTEX – European Community of Practice for a Sustainable Textile Ecosystem intends to continue to organise cross-project expert collaboration, growing its experts' network and updating the textile research and sustainability gaps and needs analysis as the innovation work progresses.

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