FibreNet: Bio-based fibres for bio-based sustainable products

An image to illustrate bio-based fibres for new bio-based sustainable products

FibreNet are focusing on bio-based fibres to improve European competitiveness and develop new bio-based sustainable products.

H2020 Innovative Training Network FibreNet educates a new generation of bio-based fibre professionals to develop novel sustainable solutions in bio-composites, bio-medical textiles, and paper and packaging.

Bio-based industries form an important industrial sector in Europe. The annual turnover of the EU’s bio-economy is worth €2 trillion and accounts for more than 22 million jobs – approximately 9% of the workforce, according to the communication ‘Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bio-economy for Europe’ of the European Commission.

The pulp and paper industry, with an annual turnover of €375 billion and the textile and clothing industry with an annual turnover of €166 billion are major sectors in the bio-based industries of Europe. In total, these sectors include 200 000 companies which employ more than 3.5 million people corresponding to an approximate 12% share of the employment in manufacturing in Europe. Furthermore, the annual production of natural fibre and wood-plastic composites is already as high as 400,000 tonnes, which covers 15% of the total fibre reinforced composites production in Europe.

New opportunities for bio-based fibres

Environmental concerns, such as news on the increasing amounts of microplastics in the oceans, have raised consumer awareness and opened up new opportunities for bio-based products. Moreover, European legislation favours the selection of natural fibres over synthetic ones. For example, the EU’s directive requires that 85% of vehicles are reusable and recycled by weight. Natural fibres offer favourable ecological and economic options for composite structures. Relatively high specific strength combined with low price enable the use of natural fibre reinforced composites in various applications, such as automotive, aerospace and construction industry.

With the ageing society, new demands for medical textile products and material innovations for regenerative medicine are emerging. With this trend and increasing competition, the textile and clothing industry in Europe has shifted its production to specialised high added value products such as wound care products, regenerative medicine, diapers, fibres and specialised fashion and design clothing. Finally, packaging and sanitary paper sectors are constantly growing and are expected to maintain the need for bio-based fibres in paper and board sector, despite that paper production has been dropping during the last ten years.

The European industry is responding to these new opportunities and trends by undertaking investments in order to renew its business. Until 2060, the European paper and fibre industry, has committed to achieve on average 40% of their future annual revenue growth – from innovative bio-based products.

Objectives of the FibreNet project

Innovative bio-based products should be able to compete with fossil-based alternatives in terms of price, performance, productivity and environmental benefits. Instead of just mimicking properties of fossil-based products, bio-based fibre products should also aim for tailored functionalities, which utilise the specific benefits of the bio-based materials.

To be able to achieve these ambitious goals, educating a new generation of bio-based fibre experts is key. With FibreNet, we will respond to this challenge and train 15 multidisciplinary fibre professionals with skill sets and competences required to meet the challenges of the industrial change and sustainable development.

FibreNet is a consortium of 15 European academic and industrial organizations.

• Tampere University, Finland (co-ordinator)
• Aachen University Hospital, BioTex, Germany
• Bcomp, Switzerland
• nBillerudKorsnäs, Sweden
• Educell, Slovenia
• Graz University of Technology, Austria
• ITA-GmbH, Germany
• Kemira, Finland
• KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
• KU Leuven. Belgium
• Maastricht University, Netherlands
• Mondi, Austria
• Predilnica Litija, Slovenia
• Tetra Pak, Sweden
• University of Maribor, Slovenia**

Giving fibres the credit they deserve

Bio-based fibres are in the core of the FibreNet project. Our cross-disciplinary approach ranges from chemical functionalisation of fibres at the molecular scale to micromechanical and physicochemical characterisation and testing at the microscale and macro-mechanical modelling and testing at the product scale. We also encourage a mindset towards sustainability as a natural part of the product development process and life cycle. Therefore, FibreNet includes life cycle assessment as an integral part of all our research and educational activities.

In our research and training activities, we aim for a common methodological toolbox which can be used in different application domains. The toolbox includes novel methods to: i) functionalise and modify, ii) characterise, iii) model and/or iv) produce fibre-based materials at different scales and in multiple domains.

To achieve cross-domain synergies and facilitate learning across different domains, we have a unique combination of application in our research and training network including:

• Bio-composites
• Biomedical textiles and tissue engineering applications
• Paper and packaging materials.

In bio-composites, we aim to achieve durable bio-fibre based products with strength comparable to conventional glass fibre reinforced composites. We also aim to increase their lifetime and reliability in long-term applications.

In biomedical textiles and tissue engineering applications, our individual research projects aim to develop bio-based wound dressing scaffolds which promote healing and tissue regeneration and can provide anti-inflammatory and pain relief drugs. The projects also study polysaccharides and other polymer-based scaffolds as materials for complex tissue engineering substrates.

In paper and board applications, our individual research projects study how chemicals can contribute to light-weighting of board and provide more efficient recycling, and how properties of raw materials and important production process parameters can be connected.

Several novel state-of-the art methods such as multi-scale modelling, atomistic simulations, micromechanical computational tools, automated micromechanical testing and novel microscopy techniques are applied and further developed in the individual research projects.

FibreNet receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 764713. It is an umbrella project for 15 individual research projects in the field of bio-based fibres on years 2018-2022. The goals of the umbrella project are:

• To generate common goals for the multidisciplinary fibre-research within the consortium—and to oversee the attainment of the goals;
• To structure doctoral training in bio-based fibres and to offer scientific and transferable skills training;
• To build a strong and active network of fibre-professionals from different application areas;
• To share the expertise and know-how across different disciplines; and
• To promote the exploitation of the results generated in FibreNet**

Sought-after impacts

Greener society: Controlling the link from the fibre properties to the properties of the product enables reducing the amount of raw material in production, using recycled material without impairing the product properties and replacing fossil-based materials with bio-based fibre materials.

Improved competitiveness of the European bio-based industry: New fibre products create new business. New functionalities new high added value products help to retain competitiveness and to sustain the bio-based fibre industries in Europe.

Improvement of well-being: Innovative bio-medical products enable new and better treatments. New wound healing methods and cell-based treatments can, e.g., increase life expectancy, improve patients’ capacity to work and promote active and healthy ageing.

Professor Pasi Kallio
Tampere University
Faculty of Medicine and
Health Technology
Micro- and Nanosystems
Research Group
+358 500 525546

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