When it comes to creating a major innovation, you might not expect it to come from a company that is more than 400 years old. But that’s what’s happening; Piana Technology has developed a material called E/SMART that it hopes will replace much of the 1.3 million tons of foam that ends up in U.S. landfills each year. According to the company, these traditional materials cannot be readily recycled, wasting more than 33 billion kWh of energy.

The key to this new material is a process that vertically aligns fibers to create a non-woven fabric. It is fabricated using a 3D printing process, up to 2.5 meters wide. The result is non-toxic, odor free, washable, and ten times more permeable to air. And unlike most foams, it is completely recyclable. It is lightweight and provides good support to reduce pressure points in applications such as mattresses.

Because of its unusual fabrication process, it is possible to include sensors within the material. These can be locate on the surface, as with other textile materials, but can also be located anywhere within the depth of the material. This could lead to mattresses and other devices that measure pressure, temperature, heart rate, and other important biometric data.

The company also intends to develop smart face masks using E/SMART that will include sensors that can detect biomarkers caused by inflammation. These disease-detecting masks could cost less than $5; the company hopes to have them in production before the end of 2022.