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The ecological properties of flax and hemp make these fibres natural contenders for applications in a variety of innovative industrial sectors, all of which are under pressure to take into account sustainable development in their mode of production. In this context, the composite materials sector offers genuine prospects for flax and hemp fibre development.
(Published on February-March 2010 – JEC Magazine #55)
To support and develop the technical uses of flax and hemp, and with the increasingly prevalent pooling of data, the European Flax and Hemp Confederation (CELC –Confédération Européenne du Lin et du Chanvre) has created a European Scientific Committee. CELC chose to announce this at its 60th Annual Congress, held from November 4-7 in Strasbourg.
European Scientific Committee
Historically dedicated to business sectors using these fibres in textiles/clothing and household applications, CELC is also increasingly involved in promoting the European flax and hemp industry in other sectors representing new market opportunities, in particular the automotive industry, ecoconstruction, insulation, plastics processing and composite materials. The mechanical properties of flax and hemp have a lot to offer, and meet specific needs in a variety of sectors.
Since 2005, a specific technical division has worked on organising a European skills network bringing together businesses, universities and research centres, while encouraging R&D through its involvement in various programmes and attending European events and international trade fairs in order to promote these natural fibres.
The creation of the European Scientific Committee is one plank of CELC’s international strategy. With the operational support of eight experts from eight European universities, its objective is to develop expertise with regard to standards and benchmarking, training, the publication of reference works and the dissemination of information.
The duties of the European Scientific Committee consist in drawing up an inventory of the existing scientific and technical resources, defining the possibilities of development and of new research in line with the industrial strategy, encouraging "open innovation" and providing the opportunity to overcome the shortfall in internal resources.
On the occasion of the 60th Congress, the Scientific Committee presented for the first time to this industry’s professionals an overview of the current state of research into fibres.
This generated a constructive vision of where flax and hemp are at today, and avenues for their development in the world of new materials. Their qualities and their weaknesses were studied and compared with other natural fibres (carbon and glass). The results have brought into clear focus their true potential. The characteristics of flax, which is rigid, very strong and of high environmental added value, promise it a bright future indeed.
The publication of a book on natural fibres and composite materials aimed at the general public is also in the pipeline.
At the Congress, the Scientific Committee also presented its lines of research, with the following points on the agenda: agriculture, the properties of fibres, extraction, fibre preparation, adhesion between fibres and between the fibres and the matrix, the recycling possibilities for composite materials reinforced with natural fibres, and life cycle analysis.
Still with a view to promoting technical uses, in 2009 CELC signed a triennial agreement with the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the world’s benchmark university in the study of composite and biocomposite materials reinforced with natural fibres. Thanks to this collaboration, CELC benefits from technical tools dedicated to research and testing, international current awareness about technological developments and a specialised partner in the person of Joris Baets, engineer and engineer with a PhD in composite materials, who now splits his research time between the University and CELC.
The European Scientific Committee consists of 8 experts from 6 European countries:
The European Flax and Hemp Confederation (CELC – Confédération Européenne du Lin et du Chanvre) is a European agro-industrial organisation that brings together allthose involved in every stage of the production and processing of flax andhemp. Created in 1951, CELCcomprises 10,000 membercompanies in 14 countries.
- Ignaas Verpoest, KU Leuven (Belgium), Chairman
- Chistophe Baley, South Brittany University (France), Fibre characterization, interface characterization
- Joël Bréard, Le Havre University (France), Modelling, development of new, high-performance plant-based materials
- Joris Van Acker, Ghent University (Belgium), Fibre treatment, sustainability and end-of-life analysis of plant-based composites
- Hans Lilholt, Technical University of Denmark, Risö, Roskilde (Denmark), Natural fibre-based composite – flax and hemp
- Jorg Müssig, Hochschüle Bremen (Germany), Development of sustainable materials, structural properties of biocomposite material interactions
- Mark Hughes, Technical University of Helsinki (Finland), Wood material technologies, experimental mechanics and micro-mechanics
- Gerhard Ziegmann, Technical University of Clausthal (Germany), Specific fibre/matrix interface of natural fibres
Properties and research
Flax and hemp possess all the characteristics specific to plant fibres: flexibility, low abrasiveness, and low density. What is more, the quantitative and qualitative homogeneity of flax and hemp fibres can be guaranteed thanks to the possibility of assembling the fibres from one harvest to the next. Flax and hemp are increasingly being used to reinforce PVC, PE and PP polymers, replacing certain synthetic fibres.
The mechanical properties of flax and hemp fibres are comparable to those of glass fibre, due to their high degree of specific rigidity. Thanks to the low density of natural fibres as compared to traditional reinforcement fibres, composite materials including flax and hemp are proving valuable in all applications where lightness is a decisive factor. Flax and hemp both enable the production of complex shapes via injection or extrusion processes. What is more, flax offers optimised vibration absorption.
The R&D efforts of the flax and hemp industry as a whole are guiding research towards materials that guarantee environmental protection through to the end of the life cycle. The development of flax and hemp fibre applications in thermoplastic and thermoset composites can be explained not only by a more environmentally-conscious approach on the part of the industry, but also on account of the intrinsic performance of plant fibres.
It is precisely the optimisation of this performance that the European Scientific Committee is currently studying: which fibre implementation processes for which types of end-use?