Will automobile parts soon be biodegradable?
Sustainability is a bold word that can easily degenerate into hollow decoration if not backed up by concrete economic or ecological progress. This is something that the textile researchers Sangeetha Ramaswamy and Bayram Aslan from the Institute of Textile Engineering (ITA) at the RWTH Aachen University need not fear. In cooperation with the Belgian Textile Research Centre and the Sirris Leuven-Gent Composites Application Lab the two graduate engineers of mechanical and textile engineering have developed environmentally sound components from wholly biological raw materials, i.e. from plant fibres and biopolymers. In their final project report they underline that an economically and functionally viable alternative to petroleum-based composite materials has been found.
The researchers first combined flax and hemp fibres with polymers obtained from plant starch which are mainly produced on the basis of fossil energy sources. Then the biopolymers and plant fibres that give the “green” composite material the necessary stability were heated and thus fused together. According to the textile researcher Aslan, the specific strength and mechanical stability of the flax fibres can absolutely be compared with those of glass fibres that today make up the largest portion of composites. From these bio-composites, hybrid tissues and webs can be obtained in further processing steps and then made into complete car seats, the interior paneling for automobiles or trains or even into non-loadbearing aircraft components. Industry has consequently already shown considerable interest in their work, even while their research project was still ongoing, as Aslan was able to report.
Dr. Klaus Jansen, Head of the Textile Research Committee (FKT – Forschungskuratorium Textil), underlined that “sustainability is clearly on the agenda”. Researchers from various industries are cooperating with their colleagues from around the globe to develop further materials from renewable resources and bring them to the point of industrial application. Jansen emphasized that the technologies required for the sustainable production of fibres from renewable resources is one of the main objectives named in the strategic technology forecast “Perspektiven 2025” that – under the guidance of a future coach – identified ten industry and growth relevant topics. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy promoted the European sustainability project “Nature Wins” within the framework of CORNET (Collective Research Networking), the support network that assists transnational R&D projects.