The future of Tencel has more to do with the NMMO solution. Since NMMO is non-toxic, easily made and 99% recyclable, the expansion of mixing it with different types of cellulose and its derivatives seems to be a hot topic.
Lenzing is currently in production with a new Tencel that uses a technology called REFIBRA. The process is exactly the same as Tencel but part of the cellulose input is derived from pre-industrial cotton scrapes - mostly from cutting rooms. Those scraps are turned into pulp and then blended with wood pulp. After that, the Tencel process continues as usual.
Cotton scraps that are usually landfilled can be reused.
Lenzing claims the ReFriba process uses 95% less water compared to conventional cotton. From my research, that seems well within the standard deviation of regular Tencel. No data exists on the comparison of REFIBRA and with the regular Tencel process.
The idea is extremely cool and while it’s new, it seems to have a huge potential. When talking to Innovation In Textiles, Tricia Carey of Lenzing mentioned, post-consumer waste is the next goal of the REFIBRA technology. If successful, the environmental implications would be tremendous! Remember, only fabrics or clothes derived from 100% cellulose would be applicable at the moment, polyester blends would not. I should note that more research is needed in the Life Cycle Assessment before a definite conclusion but I can only assume it will be positive as scraps are used instead of virgin materials.
Lastly, I was not able to find the exact amount of cotton to wood pulp ratio used in the REFIBRA process. I’m sure it’s proprietary. What I did find was that Lenzing’s Tencel using REFIBRA technology is part of Recycled Claim Standard which is a “chain of custody standard to track recycled raw materials through the supply chain.” From my understanding, the standard will track any product with 5% of its content being of recycled origin. Not significant but worth noting.