H&M-backed polyester recycler aim to reduce carbon and waste at hyperscale
We speak to Dennis Nobelius about initiating textile-to-textile recycling, starting with polyester.
7 Mar 2024

Syre (from the Swedish word for sew – ”sy” – and the latin word for again – ”re”) is founded by H&M Group and investment company Vargas, which is focusing on impact companies such as Northvolt, H2 Green Steel, and Aira. TPG Rise Climate, an initiative by global alternative asset manager TPG, has also joined as a founding investor with a substantial investment, bringing extensive experience scaling climate solutions globally and in companies focused on the circular economy.

Dennis Nobelius, CEO, it’s been a highly rumoured project in the industry. People have known for maybe six months or so that something was cooking with H&M and Harald Mix, co-founder of Vargas. Tell us about the project.

— We are putting textile waste to use and we are leading the great textile shift, he says. We are into textile-to-textile recycling and we’re going to replace the bottle-to-fibre that will be phased out. We will ensure that the brands and the value chain will be able to meet their sustainability targets with our solution, which has superior sustainable performance. It’s a pure plug-and-play solution and quality on par with oil-based virgin polyester. We’ll do this in a hyper-scale approach and going for 12 plants globally in three regions (the US, Europe, and Asia, Ed’s note) and with a massive ambition which will require multi-billions of dollars of funding. That’s what we go for.

How important was this scale aspect when you started it?

— That is the key and also the reason why we are a textile impact company. That’s why we go for polyester because it’s by far the biggest fibre — 54% globally. We believe that this is how we can decarbonise and de-waste on a scale that makes an impact on society.

Prototype by Syre.

How’d you describe the technology, cPET, that you’ll be using?

— First of all, we’ve been in stealth mode for 2.5 years and the majority of that period has been spent on finding the right technology. And then we come back to the scale. The right technology for us is one that could scale and be cost-efficient at the same time while having a superior sustainability metric.

— We evaluated 20+ different technologies and took support from external companies to do due diligence. We found one that has got the promise to scale, based in North Carolina, where a few professors have been working for the last nine years with this technology to evaluate, monitor, and secure the reuse of energy and chemicals. The only thing they lacked was someone with the finances and expertise to scale. That’s done when H&M comes in with a big contract and an industry network, and Vargas comes in with the knowledge of how to scale both financially and industrially. Then TPG Rise Climate also comes in with a balance sheet and also industry network that could make the scale happen.

— If I go into the technology, it’s a chemical process. We bring it down to the monomer and build it up to the polymer again, it’s based upon glycolysis and the chemicals used are all known. EG is one of them, which we’ve used both as a catalyst and a solvent. On top of that, we have very few process steps to make this happen — it’s a continuous flow. We have 255 °C degrees that we heat up to and then go down to 200, so it’s a limited amount of energy that we need to re-apply.

— There are a number of patents and we will offer more details about the technology in the next wave, when we are done.


When it comes to polyester recycling, it’s been a huge challenge getting the quality right. What do you say about that?

— It is probably still a challenge, but a challenge we need to overcome, Nobelius states. Right now at this very moment, we are having a number of validation tests at selected customers and partners. We feel confident that since we’re bringing it down to the monomer and building it up to the polymer we have a good base. We have also tested it with a third party.

A big issue with recycling has also been the mixed materials. How do you address that and what are the prerequisites for recycling in your technology?

— You’re right, that is one of the key enablers here. We have a very inclusive specification for the feedstock. That means that we have only one requirement; the polyester content in the material. Our technology can hand down to 60-70% of polyester, which is decent.

— But we also think that the financial of the business sweet spot is probably more around 90%. That’s why we have started to build networks and start to build and invest in and find partnerships to make this happen at the scale we would need.

— Fashion and apparel is, of course, our home turf, being started by H&M. But polyester also exists in, for instance, cars, which is the area where I come from, as well as in airbags, seat belts, seat upholstery panels, and headlining, so that’s also an area we go for. The third area will be the home interior.

It’s obvious to see the benefits, given how much polyester we have in the marketplace. But from a sustainability perspective, some people are raising eyebrows saying that we should just get rid of polyester completely. Doesn’t this just prolong our use of it?

— First of all, we are building a textile powerhouse. We start with polyester. The reason for that is that 60 million metric tons per year are used and it’s growing. I think the reason why it’s growing is that the attributes of polyester are quite desirable. It lasts for a long time and it’s cost-efficient. But it cannot continue to be produced from oil. We would like to be part of create it from a linear-to-circular model. If you have it as a circular model and the majority of the drawbacks are gone, you can use it and benefit society with a long-lasting fibre for airbags and fashion.

When you say that PET bottles are on their way out, what do you mean by that?

— When we speak with the brands, they recognise a couple of things. One is that they have set up very ambitious sustainability targets, but now heavily rely on the rPET solutions, which is the bottle-to-fibre. Then you see the legislation in Europe is pushing that away and recognising that downgrading it is not a circular solution because you can only reuse it once; you can only move it to textile and then you cannot reuse it again.

— The technology that we have tested enables recycling at least eight times without any degradation of the quality. That’s why we focus on textile-to-textile. We would like to create a circular system within textile-to-textile and then let bottles remain bottles. One legislation that is looking into this, is the Green Claims Directive in Europe. We think that Europe is leading the way when it comes to legislation. Of course, the brands in the value chain do not wish to have many different variations. Our understanding is that they will look into Europe complying with that and then spread that across the globe.

H&M is a big investor and a customer. How do you hope to service the rest of the fashion industry?

— A clear statement from H&M from the start was that this should not be an own venture, solely servicing H&M. They have a clear statement that this is an industry movement. It needs to be, because we need it. They want to go down in the ownership over time also for the investment side and they also see that other players could come in and co-invest or sign an agreement with us. They are of course pleased to be the first out to secure the capacity because they also see that there will be a big demand-supply gap in the years to come. When the bottle-to-fibre is phased out there will unfortunately not be many players like us going for a big scale. I think they are pleased with securing that capacity. We have talked to global brands in this area already and I think what they appreciate, again, is the scale.

Dennis Nobelius.

Final question: When will we see the first collections hanging on racks from Syre? 

— I think that we will be able to order it from the blueprint plant to supply, some kind of volumes, next year. On mass, it will be in 2026 or 2027.